Lunching at Your Desk Eats Away at Your Productivity

Think you haven’t got time to take a lunch break? Consider it a time investment

Alice Bonasio
4 min readMar 26, 2016


Last year, a survey found out that over a third of British office workers ate pretty much the same lunch every single day. Not only that, but they tended to do it at their desks, taking less than half an hour ‘break’ to consume the ‘meal’, which — as it turned out — was most likely to be a cheese sandwich.

Over a third of British office workers eat the same lunch every day: a cheese sandwich

Now don’t get me wrong, cheese sandwiches have their place, but I can’t help thinking that there has to be more to life than eating the same thing all the time? In fact, the workers surveyed didn’t seem to be that fond of their sandwiches, but instead blamed habit and convenience as key factors in making that choice (over and over again).

But if you think that you’re getting more accomplished by skipping lunch, think again. Far from making you more productive, these “working lunches” can actually sap your creativity. Kimberly Elsbach, a professor of management at UC-Davis, says that working without breaks exhausts our cognitive capacity and makes us less able to make creative connections: “If you’re skipping lunch to continue to push forward in a very intense cognitive capacity, then you’re probably not doing yourself any favours,” she says.

Far from making you more productive working lunches can actually sap away your creativity

Then there are the social benefits of interacting with your colleagues. We know that employees who socialize together in the workplace tend to build stronger bonds, and as management consultant Dr Ben Waber told the New York Times, employers should structure work to make sure that people have those opportunities, because “when we look at what makes people happy and effective at work, it’s being able to spend time with a close group of people”.

Employees who socialize together in the workplace tend to build stronger bonds

Companies like Google, who are often voted as the best and most productive workplaces in the world, have long realised the power of food in bringing people together and making them happier and more creative. They even went so far as designing the queues in their canteens so that people had a chance to talk while waiting. Food and the rituals around it are, it seems, perfect triggers for social interaction, and employers would do well to encourage this in the workplace.

Google famously designed its lunch canteen queues to encourage people to talk to each other while waiting

Of course, not all employers can afford to provide staff with free lunches, and as that survey demonstrates, we are creatures of habit who, left to our own devices, are likely to fall back on the easy option. We also know that home-cooked food is tastier and healthier than mass-produced supermarket fare, but with busy lives, most of us opt to grab that extra half an hour of sleep rather than packing a healthy lunch.

People will often opt to get some extra sleep rather than getting up earlier to make a packed lunch

The answer? Making sure that the best option is also the most convenient. I remember my last office was right around the corner from Leather Lane Market in Farringdon, which had a wonderful array of restaurants and street food. However, instead of walking two minutes to get lunch there, most of my colleagues went to the supermarket next door for their cheese sandwich. These were people who loved their food, but… the supermarket was right there! The irony is that there was such a lunchtime rush at that supermarket that they probably spent twice as long standing at the checkout line than it would have taken them to stroll down to the market.

The answer might be to make the healthiest options more convenient

We spend so much of our time at work, so wouldn’t it be nice if we could have all the goodness of a fresh, home-made lunch, delivered to your desk? That was some of the thinking behind a company called Trybe, which is connecting passionate home cooks to people who love food but don’t necessarily have the time to cook it themselves. If the survey above is anything to go by, they’ve got their work cut out for them, but if they succeed they could help make London offices a lot more sociable and productive.



Alice Bonasio

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications