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Do You Know The Unofficial Rules For Eating In Your Office?

Do You Know The Unofficial Rules For Eating In Your Office?
When Tesco was forced recently to withdraw its own brand apple and blackcurrant squash after multiple reports of a foul odour emanating from within the bottles, the supermarket giant blamed the smell on a rogue additive which, to the nose at least, closely resembles garlic.

But when your office is infiltrated by the noxious fumes produced by someone’s packed lunch, you and your colleagues may well not be quite so accepting if it means vacating your workspace and diving for the nearest fire exit to inhale the relatively fresh traffic-polluted air. From egg sandwiches to Stilton to last night’s leftover Indian takeaway, the pungent odours of our packed lunches are akin to bio-hazards of the worst order.

But while taking your lunch to the office was once an offence worthy of derision at the very least, today’s workers are a money-savvy bunch who understand that there are big savings to be enjoyed, with some estimates putting £2,500 back into our bank accounts simply for not eating in the local deli. But how can you eat comfortably in your office without condemning yourself to becoming a social outcast by the end of the week?

Avoid foods that smell
It’s a simple rule and you probably know the worst offenders already: onion, garlic, tuna, sardines, chilli, most French cheeses… Unfortunately it seems the list is endless, but this doesn’t mean your lunches need to be boring. From rice salads to Italian breads and sliced meats to sun-dried tomato pasta, variety is definitely the spice of lunch life (just go easy on the spice).

Of course some people naively believe that they have a right to eat as they please; just bear in mind that consuming your favourite Stilton sandwich in the presence of others might mean medicated insoles in next Christmas’ Secret Santa.

Eat on time
It’s easy to apologise for eating at your desk ("It’s a working lunch" is a good excuse and actually makes you look even more committed to your job) but it tends to ring hollow when it’s only just gone 11am and your colleagues are hard at work, despite the gnawing feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

Working in an office automatically means playing your part in the team and positive relationships with your colleagues are going to be undermined if you appear to be taking advantage of the unspoken rules of behaviour. Save your meal for the official office lunchtime and, if you really must eat at your desk, try to do so inconspicuously.

Find out whether you have to take a lunch break
Working at your desk while you eat could be regarded as yet more time spent working and your employer has a legal duty to ensure that all workers have a minimum 30 minute break (subject to the length of their working day). Therefore, your manager might have a particular view about whether eating in the office is contrary to health and safety legislation.

For example, long periods of DSE (Digital Screen Equipment) work – that is, computer monitors in particular – is not advised without adequate rest break to protect against fatigue, eye strain, backache and upper limb pain and employers are advised to schedule proper breaks to help to protect workers. Therefore, your employer may insist that lunch is consumed away from your desk for your – and - their, protection. So check with your line manager before you tuck in.

Don’t expect peace
If you’re sitting at your desk – lunch box or not – your colleagues assume that you are working. This means your lunch may be peppered with interruptions, questions, appeals for help and problems to deal with, all of which you should attend to as if it was the middle of the morning. Eating in the office makes it almost impossible for others to judge whether you should be disturbed, unless you mount a ‘go away’ sign on your desk; insisting that your colleagues come back at the end of lunch will, most probably, only cause antagonism.

Clean up!
As most primary school teachers will agree, fragments of packed lunches inevitably end up scattered across the desk and floor, except in the average office there isn’t an early afternoon clean up by the caretaker. You may have your own desk but the office space is often shared and all workers have a right to a clean, pleasant working environment as well as a responsibility to ensure their colleagues’ health and safety.

More than a third of all major workplace accidents in the UK are caused by slips and trips, with spillages a significant contributor to these incidents. Don’t believe that a squashed grape can cause a serious accident? Think again. Not only that, but food remnants are unsightly and attract the wrong sort of visitors to your office, so play your part in keeping your workspace clean and respectable.

Ask for permission
Unless your office manager is particularly relaxed, you may not have an agreed policy on lunching at your desk, so it wouldn’t go amiss to politely enquire with those sitting nearest whether they are happy for you to eat. Of course, even the presence of a particular food in the vicinity can be serious for some allergy sufferers, so a cautious approach to opening your lunch box is sensible, as well as good manners.

Eating in the office might be cost-effective, practical and help you to achieve more in the working day, but doing so with a blind disregard for others, and for the health and safety of yourself and your colleagues, could simply sour relations. So check out the rules of the office and open a reasoned debate with your colleagues and your manager, to ensure that lunching at your desk is agreeable for all.

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