The new rules for eat­ing al desko

Is there a right and wrong way to eat at your desk? Should you be do­ing it at all? Phil Daoust speaks to ex­perts and of­fice work­ers

The Guardian - G2 - - Food -

As win­ter fi­nally be­gins to bite, the idea of the al-desko lunch seems in­creas­ingly al­lur­ing. No one wants to take their sand­wich to the park when it’s snow­ing snow­ing, and even the walk to the lo­cal cafe caf can seem too much when it is through throo wind and rain.

But is iss there a right and a wrong way to e eat at your desk? Should we be ev even do­ing it in the first place? W We asked some ex­perts and of­fice wwo work­ers.

Is it OK tto eat al desko?

Ab­so­lutely Ab­so­lut te not, says Henry Ste­wart, Ste­wart t, founder and “chief hap­pine hap­pi­ness e of­fi­cer” of the work­place con­sulta con­sul­tancy a Happy. “It’s mad­ness. We’ve g got o to get peo­ple out of the ham­ster wheel of con­tin­ual work. It’s not good g for them and it’s not good for the or­gan­i­sa­tion. All the re­search shows that peo­ple work more ef­fec­tively if they take breaks.”

Ste­wart banned al-desko din­ing at Happy sev­eral years ago, not for any lofty mo­tive but be­cause some­one – it may even have been him – spilled hot choco­late on the car­pet the day they moved in. Now his team all have lunch – and af­ter­noon ice­cream breaks – to­gether at the cafe next door. “I thought it would last about a week,” he says, “but it’s still go­ing and it has had a hugely ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect. You talk to peo­ple you might not nor­mally talk to. It in­creases com­mu­ni­ca­tion and gen­er­ally im­proves the ef­fec­tive­ness of an or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

It’s a smart ca­reer move, adds An­dré Spicer, pro­fes­sor of or­gan­i­sa­tional be­hav­iour at the Cass Busi­ness School in Lon­don. “It’s good for job sat­is­fac­tion, per­for­mance, pro­mo­tion … Why? Be­cause eat­ing is a so­cial rit­ual in which peo­ple swap in­for­ma­tion.”

And it’s en­joy­able, says PR Wil­liam Matthews. “Break­ing bread with your col­leagues ev­ery day is far bet­ter for team spirit than the dreaded once-in-a-blue­moon ‘or­gan­ised fun’ that so many com­pa­nies go in for. Peo­ple are so­cial be­ings and eat­ing to­gether is a sort of primeval thing.” He has fond mem­o­ries of the boss who made every­one down tools for a “proper seated lunch with proper crock­ery and cut­lery, so every­one could clear their heads and en­joy the food”.

So, every­one agrees that eat­ing al desko is a bad thing? Hardly. “It’s ab­so­lutely OK to eat a snack at your desk,” says Myka Meier, founder of Beau­mont Eti­quette. “You sim­ply want to be cau­tious of eat­ing smelly food. Eti­quette is all about be­ing kind, re­spect­ful and con­sid­er­ate of oth­ers.”

Bruce Dais­ley, Eu­ro­pean vi­cepres­i­dent at Twit­ter and au­thor of The Joy of Work, has a warn­ing for any­one tempted by a ban. “For me, this is a bit like or­gan­i­sa­tions that ban you from ac­cess­ing email out­side work hours. The in­ten­tions

are good but nan­ny­ing peo­ple never has the out­come that you want. You’re turn­ing peo­ple into in­fants, tak­ing away their right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“If peo­ple sit down to lunch to­gether,” he adds, “they do tend to col­lab­o­rate bet­ter – un­less you force them to do it, in which case all that ben­e­fit tends to go. You’ve just got to let peo­ple do what they want. If you have no agency, you feel un­happy, you feel de­mo­ti­vated, you feel es­tranged from your job.”

And let’s not for­get that scarf­ing down a sand­wich at your desk leaves you free to spend the rest of your break ex­actly as you want. A run or a visit to the gym may not give you an op­por­tu­nity to bond with your col­leagues, but a) not all col­leagues are worth bond­ing with, and b) it will do won­ders for your phys­i­cal and men­tal health.

All right, then. Is it OK to use the words ‘al desko’?

Again, it de­pends who you talk to. It’s an “abom­i­na­tion”, says au­thor He­len Jones. Eti­quette ex­pert Meier, how­ever, thinks it “adds hu­mour to a rather dull form of din­ing and makes peo­ple think of din­ing at their desks in a way that re­quires thought­ful­ness”. So she’s all for it.

What about booz­ing in the of­fice?

“Un­ac­cept­able,” says Ste­wart. “That’s an­other clear rule – you don’t drink within of­fice hours.”

Spicer is less dog­matic. “In most nor­mal of­fices there’s a sense of when you’re able to drink and when you’re not. In my work­place, af­ter about 4pm on Fri­day it’s maybe OK to have a glass or two.

“In re­cent years,” he notes, “there’s been a kind of blur­ring be­tween workspace and non-workspace, and many or­gan­i­sa­tions are be­gin­ning to de­sign their work­places to look like bars. Some shared work­places pro­vide an un­lim­ited sup­ply of beer as well as tea and cof­fee.”

“I think drink­ing’s fine, within rea­son,” says Dais­ley. “Open­ing a bot­tle of red at your desk? Prob­a­bly not OK. But there’s good ev­i­dence that a bit of mod­er­ate drink­ing can in­crease peo­ple’s affin­ity for one an­other.” Nor­mally that’s re­served for the pub, he says, but a lot of work­ers don’t like them, or don’t have time to go drink­ing af­ter work.

Tea and cof­fee?

A rare area of con­sen­sus: every­one agrees it’s OK to have these at your desk. But should you make your own or have some sort of round?

“I think it’s a very im­por­tant idea,” says Spicer. “It’s a lot like buy­ing a round in the pub but with­out the al­co­hol. It ties the group to­gether into a kind of for­mal rit­ual. It might seem like a pain in the butt when you have to con­stantly get peo­ple cof­fee or tea, but it binds peo­ple to­gether and gives them a rea­son to speak to each other.”

Or, oc­ca­sion­ally, to shirk a few min­utes’ work. “I’m against them,” says jour­nal­ist Sophia Furber.

“I used to have them in a pre­vi­ous job and when­ever I got to my ed­i­tor to ask if she wanted a cuppa she would snipe: ‘I’d rather you brought in some news.’” That’s not the only po­ten­tial con­flict: every­one who has been part of a tea or cof­fee round will be fa­mil­iar with the col­leagues who are much hap­pier drink­ing than mak­ing. “There are def­i­nitely givers and tak­ers,” is how Dais­ley puts it.

Still, there are worse abuses of the fa­cil­i­ties. “I once worked with a guy who made hot dogs in the cof­fee maker,” re­calls de­vel­op­ment sci­en­tist Sarah Cal­lens.

Is there any food you should avoid?

Any­thing too smelly, for a start. “There used to be some­one at my work who cooked fish at lunchtime,” Dais­ley says. “It’s just not a con­sid­er­ate thing to do, is it? I don’t want the of­fice to smell of kip­pers. I think it’s just about re­spect for oth­ers.”

“Never fish,” agrees City worker Rosie John­son.

As well as “mi­crowaved cephalo­pod left­overs” and “col­lec­tive fish and chips in a small shared space”, Cullen ob­jects to: “Chilli con carne al desko, sand­wich plat­ters that pong and curl in the cen­tre of the ta­ble for two hours af­ter every­one has eaten, chicken that smells like the bus …”

Even nice smells can be a prob­lem, Dais­ley warns. “Are you cre­at­ing de­sires and urges in peo­ple that they would like to be free of?”

But it’s not just odours you have to worry about. Cullen has an aver­sion to “crisp bag rustling”, while HR man­ager Nicky Maine hates “peo­ple who eat ap­ples. I can­not abide that tear­ing and wrench­ing sound, fol­lowed by munch­ing. In fact, I de­test the very word ‘munch­ing’.”

“I love the fact that we’re go­ing to ban ap­ples,” says Dais­ley. “What, we’re just go­ing soft fruit only? Pears are OK be­cause they’re a touch more giv­ing …” Still, this leaves plenty on the menu.

Or does it? Re­spon­dent af­ter re­spon­dent com­plained about work­mates who hog the mi­crowave by cook­ing jacket po­ta­toes from scratch, or fail to free it for the next user the mo­ment the timer goes ping. And if you don’t of­fend your col­leagues’ noses, ears or sense of ur­gency, you still have to con­tend with their aes­thetic judg­ments. “I have a col­league who puts ched­dar cheese on sweet things: hot cross buns, Christ­mas cake, malt loaf etc,” says teacher Jo­hanna John­ston. “It’s the not-right­ness that both­ers me! None of these items need adorn­ment.” Rosie John­son, mean­while, even ob­jects to white bread sarnies, on the ground that white bread “is not the bread of self-care”.

It’s enough to give you in­di­ges­tion.

One HR man­ager says they hate ‘peo­ple who eat ap­ples. I can­not abide that wrench­ing sound’

The dreaded curl­ing sand­wich

Ap­ple of dis­cord

Sausage in your cof­fee?

Eaters’ odour

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.