31 October 2023

Is lunch actually the most important meal of the (working) day?

Margaret Carter
Head of People and Culture

elevenM’s Head of People and Culture, Margaret Carter, chats about the contribution that office lunch can (and does) make to culture in an organisation.

You might ask what on earth has lunch got to do with privacy and cyber security? You won’t find it in the APPs or the NIST framework… But as we frequently tell our clients, performance is about much more than ticking boxes against a set of criteria.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make all the difference to culture and engagement, and thus ultimately performance.

I have always known that positive social interactions are fundamental to team cohesion. However, I didn’t really appreciate how important lunch had become at elevenM until our leadership offsite earlier this year.

Our Melbourne colleagues mentioned that one of the reasons that they loved visiting Sydney was that we all have lunch together. In fact, they were so inspired by the idea that they adopted a similar approach in our new Victorian office.

Why is eating together important?

So why is lunch important in a work environment?

Leaving aside the importance of taking a break, and being supported to take that break at work, the importance of eating together at home is known, and the benefits in a work environment are similar. Numerous studies, such as the Project ‘EAT’ longitudinal study by Minnesota University, demonstrated the benefits of eating together as a family. This study found that adolescents who frequently shared meals with their family encouraged:

  • bonding and stronger relationships
  • better mental health outcomes
  • a sense of belonging and shared values
  • improved performance (in the case of this study it was academic performance).

While there is limited research regarding the benefits of eating together in a work environment, we have a strong understanding of the importance of shared social engagement in the workplace, and this would lead us to think that the Project EAT findings would also apply in this context.

With the evolution of hybrid working, we also need to make sure that our time in the office is worthwhile and different from what we achieve when working from home.

In my experience, when we eat together at elevenM, we find out more about one another, discuss planned holidays, family challenges, work problems, enjoyable books and movies, different cultures and favourite foods. We get to know one another on a deeper level. In this way, we connect and form friendships and better working relationships.

How can lunch improve team performance?

Understanding one another builds trust, empathy and engagement. Numerous studies and meta-analyses have shown the importance of engagement on performance and staff retention. When we trust each other, we create a more secure place to work. A place where we are not afraid to be ourselves, where it is safe to share ideas and be innovative. A place where we want to stay.

What is unique about lunch at elevenM?

Lunch at elevenM is in stark contrast to my experiences in other offices where great facilities are provided but people don’t gather. Or if they do, it is in small groups and the discussions are often exclusive.

I believe that part of lunch success at elevenM is due to our positive work culture. A culture which is a product of many factors but may in part be due to the nature of our business. We are a company where privacy, safety, and confidentiality is paramount. Gossip is not a thing at elevenM — it’s not in our nature to talk about people when they are not there and so we don’t. Therefore, lunch is a positive experience.

It is also worth noting that elevenM is a very diverse office, both in terms of people’s personal and professional background and experiences, but also in personalities, and this creates interest and different perspectives and types of discussions.

Suggestions for a creating a great lunch routine in the office

The elevenM lunch routine has arisen naturally, out of the socially engaged culture of the organisation, but we have still taken the time to recognise the importance of it, and to nurture it, support it, and keep it alive. The actions below are free, simple and available to any organisation that wants to improve or nurture their culture.

There is no magic box to tick to help your company develop a great culture, but you can make these relatively easy and inexpensive changes to the lunch routine for positive change:

  1. Allocate a time.
    Whenever we have a new starter, we invite everyone to lunch with the new person. It is generally between 12pm and 1pm and appears in everyone’s calendar.
  2. Include everyone.
    It is important to include everyone in the team (or office) to the lunch. For new staters, we invite the entire organisation, even when we know people from other offices can’t attend. This ensures they’re aware of what’s happening and are reminded to make their new colleague feel welcome.
  3. Share the responsibility.
    It is easy for the lunch tradition to fall away so make sure that people organise lunch on a regular basis. Like many habits, the more you nurture it at the beginning, the more likely it is to become an automatic habit.
  4. Get leaders involved.
    As I mentioned previously, lunch will be influenced by organisational culture. Therefore, if you want lunch to have the right tone, have your leaders and the people who have the most influence on organisational culture attend when they can. This will have the added benefit of breaking down the natural hierarchy between levels and encourage mentoring and open engagement.
  5. Be brave.
    Lastly, be brave. It may be slow to start but the lunch idea will catch on and eventually lunch will become one of the reasons why people will find being in the office a valuable experience. If they end up making friends over lunch, then it might ultimately be a reason why they decide to stay.

In conclusion

A good company culture is influenced by thousands of factors and often companies are lured into expensive strategies to enhance company culture and/or encourage people back into the office. Simple inexpensive tweaks can be just as, if not more, effective. The lunch experience is an example of this.

It’s not all about flashy kitchens, free food or state of the art gyms. It’s about creating an opportunity for people to gather, feel comfortable and enjoy the company of others. Moreover, as hybrid working becomes more prevalent, making the most of our time in the office is crucial. Fostering connections through shared meals is a timeless strategy for success.

Contact us

If you’re interested in learning more about the services we provide, contact us at hello@elevenM.com.au or on 1300 003 922.