Working adults spend around one third of their waking hours at work and, as such, our workplaces should be well-placed to provide an opportunity to improve our wellbeing, both mental and physical.
Increasingly, employers and companies are switching on to the need to ensure that the wellbeing of their workforce, however large or small, is being cared for. Often this focus is on managing the environment, stress and workload. But the working day, whether in an office or elsewhere, involves by necessity, eating. Not simply for sustenance, but also for socialising and taking a break.
While there has been an emphasis on the value of families eating together in an increasingly time poor and disconnected world, our workplaces don’t seem to have had the same consideration. But the role that food and eating together can play is increasingly being taken more seriously by some employers. They are beginning to acknowledge its importance and the value in keeping its workforce healthy and motivated, and value its role in team building and co-operation.
Not only does eating well make us feel and function better, it is also a very important social tool. In an online, highly-connected and fast-paced world, where loneliness and isolation are on the rise, grabbing a sandwich and a coffee on-the-go is commonplace.
In our August wellbeing blog post, we talked about improving ‘connection’ in the workplace and when we take time to sit together and enjoy the food we have bought or made around a table, it provides us with an opportunity in the day to change the scene and share social time with colleagues. We find that we’re learning things about each other, which not only supports our wellbeing but also our productivity and ability to work well together.
The benefits of ‘commensality’
Busy lives and a culture of long working days tend to facilitate less-healthy eating, and less time to eat. A working culture that encourages taking the time to eat properly, having access to a healthy choice of food and enabling conversation about and around food is not only good for morale but good for our health too. Perhaps it’s as much about the time and sharing that is good for us, as the food we eat.
Research from Professor Kevin Kniffin and his colleagues at Cornell University, undertaken in over 50 fire stations in a large US city, compared the platoons that ate together to those that ate alone. The main relationship that the study aimed to explore and highlight was the association between eating together and team performance. ‘Eating together at the Firehouse: How workplace commensality relates to the performance of fire fighters’ found that “the relatively intimate act of coworkers eating with each other is positively correlated with enhanced team performance.”
While this study looked more specifically at performance and eating together, it was also clear that eating and cooking together with colleagues was akin to eating with families. During the interviews, firefighters said that the daily meals were a central activity and appeared to be as important as the meals eaten with their families in their homes.
The intimacy of food sharing deepens social ties, more normally-attributed to couples and families rather than work colleagues. Bonding over lunch may be more-effective than bonding over a spreadsheet!
A firefighters’ daily job will no doubt involve more energy spent, and the dangerous nature of the work means that relying on your fellow workers is essential. But arguably all workplaces involve people working together to achieve whatever their goals are, and levels of cooperation and motivation are as important. So while many work environments encourage activities that involve food outside of the workplace, perhaps there should be as much emphasis on eating together within the workplace.
Of course, there may be plenty of environments where a quick lunch alone at your desk still looking at your screen is the norm, and there are many occasions and reasons when this is fine and necessary. Eating together should be something that people are encouraged and want to do rather than be expected.
The positive power of food at Unboxed
Inclusivity in the workplace means that it’s everyone’s choice to do what makes them feel comfortable. When Unboxed moved into our new offices last year, there was much talk about where the big table should go — should we keep it, should we get a smaller one, etc.
There was general enthusiasm that the table has an important place in the office and has now happily found its new place. Being able to sit around the Unboxed table with colleagues, who you might not necessarily work with day-to-day, is regularly delightful, enlightening and funny. It’s an opportunity to get to know someone a little better, to share thoughts and experiences and perhaps even a recipe!
Sharing food together features quite highly at Unboxed. Our end-of-the-week retrospective (“Whines & Cheers”) centres around food and drink facilitating the opportunity for our team to openly share the ups and downs of our week.
Healthy snacks and drinks are provided throughout the week that always cater for different needs, such as vegan and gluten-free diets, while birthdays and other important events are celebrated with cake.
Our monthly company lunch encourages those who can to spend time together outside the office in a local restaurant. “Linkers and Thinkers” is a lunch pairing rota that links up different members of the team each month to go for lunch.
More recently, Unboxed breakfasts have added an opportunity to start the day together around the office breakfast table once a month.
This year, as part of our ongoing wellbeing initiative, we took part in the Mental Health Foundation’s Curry & Chaat, enjoying sharing a homemade curry and the opportunity to all eat together as a company. More recently, for Tea & Talk on World Mental Health Day, we ate homemade cake while sharing ideas around what people do to support their mental health and wellbeing.
It isn’t just within the remit of big companies to take into consideration the value of food and sharing in the workplace. With a bit of thought, SMEs can provide opportunities to share meals and encourage their team to spend time together.
The firehouse study shows that sharing meals favours the tendency to collaborate, and that’s clearly good for everyone. Eating together and eating well is beneficial for both our wellbeing and our productivity, at work and at home.
Based in the heart of Shoreditch, a stone’s throw from the famous Spitalfields market and the curry houses of Brick Lane, we are spoilt for choice at Unboxed. We can travel the world in a week, from the vegetarian delights of Ethiopia to a good old omelette and chips. Equally, we can share our home cooked meals and leftovers.
Hearteningly at Unboxed, there is a strong culture of appreciating the value of food and encouraging time spent to share the joy of eating together — communities of every kind bond over food. There is always more to do, but this is certainly something that we will keep building on.