Editorial / Health & Wellbeing

The Power of Stepping Away: Stop Eating Lunch at Your Desk

It’s a sight many of us are familiar with: diving into a quick sandwich or salad bowl, right there at the desk amidst a flurry of emails and pending tasks. The hustle of the corporate world often nudges us towards this seemingly efficient practice. On the surface, it might even look like a masterclass in multitasking. But is eating lunch at our workspace truly in our best interest, both for well-being and work performance? 

The Physical Health Implications

Digestive Issues: When we think about enjoying a meal, it’s often associated with relaxation – a time when our body can focus on the food we’re consuming. However, sitting at a cluttered desk, engrossed in a spreadsheet or presentation, doesn’t quite set the scene for optimal digestion.

Eating in a tense or distracted state can slow down the digestive process. This means food stays in the stomach longer, which could lead to bloating, gas, or even heartburn. In essence, our work environment isn’t always the best dining setting for our tummies.

Eye Strain and Posture: Many of us are already familiar with the eye strain that comes from staring at screens for extended periods. Adding lunchtime to this equation just extends the duration of this exposure. Our eyes need a break, a chance to refocus and adjust.

Similarly, when we bring our lunch into the work mix, our posture often takes a hit. Instead of sitting upright, we might hunch over our desk, trying to prevent any spills on important documents. Over time, this can lead to back and neck issues, making that quick desk meal a potential pain in the, well, neck.

Hygiene Concerns: It might be surprising, but our work desks aren’t always the cleanest spots. Studies have shown that the average office desk can harbour more bacteria than a toilet seat. Now, throw in some food crumbs, occasional spills, and the hands that have been everywhere from the lift buttons to the printer. The scene is set for a bacterial party. Eating at our desks can not only expose us to these germs but also increase their spread, making it a health concern we might have overlooked.

The Mental Health and Productivity Angle

Mental Breaks: Imagine running a marathon without any pit stops, where the pace is relentless and there’s no moment to catch your breath. That’s what it’s akin to when we skip our lunch breaks and plough on through the day.

It’s not just about refuelling with food; it’s about giving our minds a moment to rest and rejuvenate. Skipping these essential breaks, day in and day out, is a surefire path to mental fatigue and, in severe cases, burnout. Our brains, just like our bodies, need moments of respite to function optimally.

Work-life Boundary: It’s intriguing how the act of eating at our desks can blur the lines between our professional tasks and personal downtime. Lunch breaks serve as a natural boundary, a signal that tells us to switch off from work mode, even if it’s just for a short while.

By muddling this division, we risk creating an environment where work feels incessant, potentially leading to feelings of being overwhelmed or, worse, resentment towards our jobs. Ensuring clear distinctions between work tasks and personal moments is crucial for our mental equilibrium.

Productivity Dip: There’s a prevalent notion that more hours at the desk equals more work done. But does it, really? Research consistently suggests otherwise. Extended periods of work without breaks can result in diminishing returns.

Our concentration wanes, mistakes creep in, and tasks that should take minutes end up dragging on. It’s not about how long we work but how effectively we use our time. And funnily enough, taking that lunch break away from the desk can make the subsequent hours far more productive.

The Social Aspect and Organisational Culture

Building Connections: There’s something inherently social about meal times. From family dinners to catching up with friends over brunch, food often brings people together. The office setting isn’t any different.

Taking a lunch break in a communal area or cafe offers a chance to mingle with colleagues from different departments, share a laugh, or even brainstorm informally about a project. These seemingly casual interactions can foster stronger team dynamics and pave the way for collaboration. After all, meaningful connections at work often stem from shared moments over a meal.

Fostering a Healthy Organisational Culture: The choices and behaviours of organisational leaders have a ripple effect. If a manager consistently has lunch at their desk, it might inadvertently set an unwritten expectation for their team.

On the flip side, leaders who prioritise taking breaks and stepping away from the workstation during lunch can inspire a culture of balance and well-being. By leading by example, managers not only promote healthier habits but also communicate that the well-being of their staff is a valued aspect of the organisational culture.

Final Thoughts

It’s remarkable how a simple act, like where we choose to have our lunch, can influence so many facets of our lives – from our physical health to our social connections and even the very culture of our workplaces. The convenience of desk lunches, while alluring, pales in comparison to the manifold benefits of stepping away, even if just for a short while.

Every mealtime presents an opportunity: a moment to recharge physically and mentally, to foster connections, and to reaffirm boundaries between work and personal time. As we navigate the demands of modern work life, perhaps it’s time we re-evaluate and become more intentional about these precious midday breaks.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.