Al desko eating raises workplace worries

'Al desko' dining is becoming increasingly popular in the workplace. Picture: Shutterstock
'Al desko' dining is becoming increasingly popular in the workplace. Picture: Shutterstock

If you have returned to work with a to-do list longer than a centipede on a stretching rack, chances are you will fall victim to the rise of a brand-new epidemic facing many workplaces: desktop dining.

As your low-fat yoghurt dribbles from your mouth and onto the desktop, you might take comfort knowing you are far from alone when it comes to this dining experience.

In fact, experts believe up to half of all Australians are ditching the local café, park bench or office pause areas on a daily basis to partake in something increasingly becoming known as al desko dining - the new "go to" for many time-poor professional workers who struggle to conquer their workloads.

Even crumbier though, some under-the-pump desk jockeys are bypassing the lunch break altogether. Others are stopping only for around 15 minutes while some take lunch at their desks but continue to toil away as they chow down a bowl of seafood marinara left over from the previous night's dinner.

Cast your mind back to the time when taking an hour-long lunch break was considered an essential and important part of every working day.

You would gather in the lunchroom or nearby eatery, have a laugh perhaps at the boss' expense and then go back to your desk with a content tummy and feeling refreshed, recharged and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Those kinds of lunches have all but disappeared, sucked into a loathsome black hole created by a never-ending stream of emails, increased workloads and the ever-greater push to perform at unsustainable levels.

Visit any modern workplace and you will observe the insurance worker clacking away at a keyboard with a slice of pepperoni pizza dangling precariously from the mouth, a lawyer scoffing down a gouda and rocket roll while drafting a contract for a client, and a local bank manager belting down a burrito while mulling over a customer's application for finance.

For many of us, a new work culture seems to have dawned in which engaging in any form of midday munching that involves moving away from our desk is regarded as an unwelcome dent in the day.

Perhaps we are genuinely unable to manage our daily pile of work.

Or could it be that we don't want to appear slack by leaving the office for lunch while others remain deskbound for the entire day?

Maybe we just want to save money or avoid making small talk with our colleagues.

Regardless of the reason, a work culture that encourages al desko dining delivers more problems than the bacteria on our office desks. No wonder more and more bosses are prohibiting desk dining.

For starters, apart from driving your cubicle mates crazy with the many unwelcome sounds and smells associated with desktop dining, the desk environment including keyboards, handsets and worktop surfaces will literally be riddled with millions of bacteria to render this practice totally unhygienic.

There is also often a real price to be paid as a result of spillages on keyboards, office carpet and expensive or delicate office equipment.

Many lunch outlets and cafés credit a slump in business to the rise of al desko dining, prompting them to engage quickly with online food delivery platforms to counter that decline. If at all, this encourages more al desko dining.

But there is an even bigger price to pay for members of the crumbs-in-the-keyboard crowd.

Our failure to lunch - or clear our minds away from our desks - can cause productivity to plummet and our focus to fade.

Al desko dining is thought to be linked to burgeoning waistlines as many desk lunchers eat mindlessly as they catch up on emails, scroll through websites or take calls - inadvertently absorbing more calories than they are aware of.

And for some, too much sitting - during our sloth-like sedentary working life - has been linked to everything from diabetes and heart disease to osteoporosis.

Our failure to lunch - or clear our minds away from our desks - can cause productivity to plummet and our focus to fade.

While bypassing a lunch break might appear to demonstrate to colleagues a superior level of commitment, we all know the lack of a decent lunch break results in us crashing mid-afternoon with a subsequent downward spiralling of personal energy as the afternoon further unfolds.

There is also the issue that eating at desks hardly promotes social interaction or collaboration and can have a detrimental impact on workplace culture. After all, many believe breaking bread with our colleagues helps to build trust and fosters more collegiate workplace relations.

As the working year heats up, consider this.

It might be easy and convenient for many workers to remain fixed to their workstations during the lunchbreak.

But being part of the increasing number of crumbs in the keyboard movement does little or nothing for you - or for your boss.

Let us put our failure to lunch behind us and re-establish regular lunch breaks away from our desks - not as a luxury but as an essential ingredient in bolstering every worker's mental, physical and social well-being.

  • Professor Gary Martin is a workplace culture expert with the Australian Institute of Management.