Culture February 22nd, 2018

Why Eating At My Desk Isn't Allowed. And That's OK.

I screamed. I pleaded. I threatened to work exclusively from home.

My lead link, Zappos' organizational version of a manager, ignored me.

The proclamation was voted on and passed in our Holacracy governance meeting, and I couldn’t prove it would harm the Beyond the Box team or move us backward.

Thus, on November 6, 2017, the No Eating at Your Desk rule was implemented.

How did this whirlwind of a policy happen anyway?

Our team regularly uses Slack for quick discussions, ideas and general goofiness. Even though we sit less than 10 feet away from each other, Slack’s platform allows for easy, streamlined communication that also enables us to focus without face-to-face disturbances. This is especially true for our blogs team where writing, film editing and designing are concentration-heavy pursuits.

It was five days earlier when my lead link Slacked an article about why you shouldn’t eat at your desk. As if that wasn’t enough, he sent a follow-up article about a Canadian commercial real-estate service company that implemented a “no food at your desk” policy.

He seemed pretty serious about the idea and sent the following note: “Let’s vote on this at our next meeting. If it passes, I’m going to start keeping everyone accountable, and I expect the same in return.”

And so it began.

Eating al-desko

About half of the American workforce eats lunch at their desks. They dine “al-desko,” with food in one hand and the continuous scroll of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to keep them company.

I, too, am guilty of being a champion al-desko eater.

Before this policy was instituted, each morning I’d make my way to Zappos’ on-campus bistro and take my toast and bacon back to my desk. For the next 20 minutes, I’d blindly eat while catching up on emails or taking yet another BuzzFeed quiz, only half understanding the context as I leaned in for another bite.

By now, crumbs and bread flakes would scatter across my work area. On my keyboard, the keys became grimy and pieces of food would intersperse with dead skin cells, dust and fuzz. It’s no wonder office desks are considered more than 400 times dirtier than a toilet seat. Yuck!

Apart from the disgusting keyboard, I could tell my clothes started to feel tighter than usual. The belt that I could notch to the third hole suddenly only made it to the second. Mindless eating was causing my weight to go up and my energy and focus to plummet.

Combine this with eight hours in a swivel chair, and you’ve got 83 percent of Americans with desk jobs turning into overweight and detached employees! (Not to mention how sad it makes everyone look.)

Eating alfresco

Depending on your office setting, heading away, or even outside, for lunch isn’t always possible. And with the conveniences of GrubHub, UberEats and other food delivery services, that’s even more reason to stay slumped at your desk.

With some research, and first-hand experience, here’s why you shouldn’t.

Standing up and moving away from your desk is proven to refresh your mind, body and soul. Putting some space between you and your workload will create a restorative effect on the brain, says Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, who studies workplace psychology.

"We know that creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment, and especially when they expose themselves to a nature-like environment, to a natural environment," said Elsbach on a podcast episode of Here & Now. "Staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking.”

And if you go to lunch with other employees, you’ll get an even more significant bonus.

Personally speaking, I love my coworkers. They make me laugh, they encourage me and they uplift me when I’m having a bad day. The ability to grab a coffee or lunch with them is often the highlight of my workweeks, and I’ve learned so many new things about them that I otherwise might not have known!

For instance, the videographer is growing a hydroponic garden in his apartment, the illustrator is writing a children’s book about his dog, and my lead link who tasked us to try this is regaling us with stories about growing up in the Midwest.

This form of teambuilding has helped deepen our work relationships and camaraderie that can only be classified as #squadgoals. And it’s also a valuable way to network with other colleagues throughout the company.

But if you aren’t a social butterfly, don’t fret. Brown bag your lunch and sit on a park bench, or step away from your desk and take a walk around the building. The point is, just get some fresh air! Removing yourself from the computer screen’s blinking cursor can be a big reboot for your brain. It’s worked for me!

Eating humble pie

Zappos’ second core value is to Embrace and Drive Change. It’s the ethos that I have the toughest time accepting. I’m stubborn and set in my ways. Looking back, I certainly didn’t expect this policy, something that I thought was silly, would have such a positive effect on my career and wellness.

But I’m glad it did!

It amuses me how even coworkers from other teams are also holding me accountable. If I walk past with a full plate they’ll ask, “You aren’t eating at your desk, are you?” I’ve even noticed these same people in our area moving away from their desks and into the common areas to eat. It’s becoming a movement in our department, just like it did at that pioneering real-estate services company.

And bonus: My keyboard remains squeaky clean from grime and goo, I’m more alert and engaged in team discussions, and I’ve lost 10 pounds. Maybe I should’ve eaten that humble pie sooner.

What do you do for breakfast and lunchtime meals at the office? Have you considered instituting a policy like this for your team or at your job? Let us know in the comments below!

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