Bringing the Concept of Family Dinner to Your Office

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– Guest post by Kara McCartney of ZeroCater

We live in an always–on culture. We check our e-mail before falling asleep at night, only to wake up the next morning and scroll through our inbox once again.

We’re so connected to our tablets and smartphones that “Phantom Vibration Syndrome” is now listed in Wikipedia.

Before I worked at ZeroCater, I had no concept of a lunch hour. At my first job out of college, I worked for an investment consulting firm outside the D.C. metro area. For me, lunch consisted of a Greek yogurt and a granola bar. I nicknamed my lunch “Stuff on a Plate,” and munched silently at my desk, staring at my computer screen. I never once took a true lunch break or interacted with my coworkers. My break was a walk outside or a mini workout at the gym.

At the time, I had no idea what value I was missing from that lunch hour. I had been taught the 9 to 5 didn’t exist, that those who didn’t break were those who got ahead, and a wasted moment was a moment I was not investing toward my future.

I was placing a lot of ROI on that lonely cup of yogurt.

Several years later, I sat around a table eating with my fellow colleagues. Somehow we started telling the stories of our former lunch hours (and yes, I told the story of the sad granola bar I stored in my desk). The results were even more depressing than you would have thought:

I used to go to this park across the street, and eat my sandwich by myself because I didn’t want to go back to my desk.

I was always so stressed out that I would forget about lunch until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I would finally run to this burrito place on the corner…at least there was no line.

I was always so cheap I would store a box of cereal in the drawer of my desk, then mix it with the communal milk meant for coffee.

For all the times when dedication, hard work, and leadership were spooned down our throats, we seemed to miss the chapters on teamwork and culture in Productivity 101. If we had been given a pop quiz, we would have calculated a dramatically different return for that solo lunch.

Those calculations would have shown that disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy over $450 billion per year in lost productivity, that employees satisfied with their benefits are more than twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs, and today, more than twice as many employees are motivated by work passion versus career ambition. As grateful as I was to share a sit-down meal with other human beings (rather than chug a post-workout smoothie as I so often did for dinner), the end result of those team meals was a company culture I wanted to be a part of.

As kids, we’re told dinnertime is family time—we sit at the table, we talk about our day, and we turn off the T.V. In an age where we see our coworkers more than our own families, many companies are bringing the camaraderie and conversation of the dinner table into the corporate lunch hour. Does food make the 9-5 more enjoyable? Yes, absolutely. Is it the main motive for team meals? Not quite.

The main motive behind team lunches is the loyalty, teamwork, and efficiency that comes out of those meals.

My lunch hour is my chance to get another set of eyes on the blog post I’m writing. It’s where I learn what projects other departments are working on. It’s where I build better relationships with my colleagues, than it took to build in months at other companies.

My lunch hour is where my best ideas happen.

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