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Build Your Career Office Life

Lunch Is Served! Workplace Meals Improve Productivity

Lunch Is Served! Workplace Meals Improve Productivity
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Your local fire department might provide some clues on how your company can improve productivity.

A new Cornell University study suggests employers may see a boost in productivity if they encourage their employees to eat meals together, similar to what occurs in many firehouses.

Researchers found that firefighters who eat meals together have better group job performance compared with firefighters who dine individually. The study's authors believe their findings have implications for all organizations looking to improve team performance.

Kevin Kniffin, one of the study's authors and a visiting assistant professor in Cornell's Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, said eating together is more of an intimate task than just looking over an Excel spreadsheet. He said after a meal is concluded, that intimacy spills over into work. 

"From an evolutionary anthropology perspective, eating together has a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue," Kniffin said in a statement. "That seems to continue in today's workplaces."

Based on the results, the researchers believe employers would be better served by looking at investments in cafeterias and catered meals as investments in employee performance. [Encouraging Productivity Is All About the Environment ]

"Although the costs that organizations invest to support on-site eating are clearly measured as direct expenses, our research highlights the opportunity that exists to start measuring and optimizing less direct organizational benefits that can be obtained through institutional support for commensality among coworkers," the study's authors wrote.

For the study, researchers spent 15 months conducting interviews and surveys in a large city's fire department, which included more than 50 firehouses. The researchers asked the department's supervisors to rate the performance of their platoon compared with other fire companies in which they've served. The supervisors were also asked how often the platoon eats together.

The study's authors found that the platoons who ate together most often got higher marks for their team performance, while the platoons that did not eat together got lower performance ratings.

The researchers discovered that many firefighters expressed embarrassment when asked about why they didn't eat together.

"It was basically a signal that something deeper was wrong with the way the group worked," Kniffin said.

The study's authors believe the results have implications for many organizations, simply because all employees need to eat each day.

"This area of investigation carries significant potential as a mechanism to increase work-group performance within organizations by leveraging natural needs to eat when compared with less mundane activities that would require more complicated employer interventions," the study's authors wrote.

The study, funded in part by Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences, was co-authored by Cornell professors Brian Wansink, Carol Devine and Jeffery Sobal.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.