Workplace Culture

Taking Office Gossip Off the Lunch Menu

By David Chasanov

Dec. 1, 2018

With millions of American workers eating lunch at their desks, in a car or not taking a lunch break at all, one startup is going all in to make lunchtime more engaging for its staff.lunch at work

Nikki Sucevic, head of recruiting and training at online children’s clothier Mac & Mia, said the company provides lunch for four randomly chosen employees from different departments. There’s just one request of the staffers selected to go to lunch together: Do not talk about work at all; instead get to know each other.

“When you start to create bonds beyond work, you feel more empathy for your co-workers, and want to work harder for them,” Sucevic said.

Sucevic said her office hasn’t collected formal feedback on the program, which was implemented this fall. Anecdotally she noticed a more positive atmosphere in her workplace of 30 employees. Sucevic thinks lunching with colleagues can work for other companies as well.

“A lot of times, companies have happy hours or one-day events, and this is a quick Band-Aid,” Sucevic said. “Instead of doing one big thing now and then, we want to create a culture of this and start to make little adjustments every day. [Our] lunch lottery plan is one of our cultural shift plans to build relationships, empathy and cross-functional respect.”

Also read: A Desk for One for Lunch

According to a May 2018 survey conducted by workplace hygiene brand Tork, employees can have multiple reasons for not taking their lunch break. Nearly 20 percent of North American workers worry their bosses won’t think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, while 13 percent worry their co-workers will judge them. Some 38 percent of employees in the study also said they don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break.

Making a lunch program with co-workers or even just eating with someone voluntarily can go a long way, said Laura Hamill, chief people officer at employee engagement company Limeade.

Also read: Give ’Em a Break: Employees Want Their Lunch Break Back

The Bellevue, Washington-based company, aside from sharing a similar program with Mac & Mia, has another program where they have new hires start their first day at lunch time and have a meal with their new co-workers. Hamill said this program has received exceptional feedback.

“I had someone who just started on my team and she wrote an email to me sometime this week and she said she felt like a welcomed part of the team and felt like she had another family now,” Hamill said.

Limeade’s marketing team wrote an article last year about the benefits that come from having lunch with co-workers. Those benefits include boosting productivity, building better relationships, making leaders more accessible and improving well-being.

“It’s about being a human being, not talking about work and learning what your co-workers are up to and what their lives are outside of work,” Hamill said. “It has to do with the idea of relationships. The more I think we get to know each other as human beings, we begin to trust each other more and understand the perspective people are bringing to work.”

David Chasanov is a Workforce editorial associate. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

David Chasanov is a Workforce editorial associate. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com

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