Okay, being Italian I was raised based on the belief that “Food is Love”. No matter how loud and heated our family discussions became, having them over a meal made it OK. Plus what better way was there to welcome a family member who stops in for a visit.
That same concept holds true for the workplace–and now real scientists have confirmed it! This article describes a study which confirms that people who eat together are happier, less inhibited and are more apt to compromise. Perhaps they behave that way because they want to be accepted and please others. Perhaps chewing raises levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin.
It really doesn’t matter why we think eating together is good for communication and bonding–centuries of well fed Italian families have already proven the concept.
Would it help in the workplace for employees to eat together–of course. But I am not so much talking about peers. We can encourage or even schedule such events and that is good. But what really would help any workplace is for supervisors and higher level management to share meals with all levels of employees. Not just the occasional Employee of the Month Luncheon or the monthly Lunch with the Boss. Those are good things and should be done. But how about supervisors and executives actually sitting down for a casual lunch with rank and file employees and front line supervisors.
We hear about CEOs who randomly drop by the employee break room or employee dining room to catch lunch and that’s great. But how often do a group of managers go the to dining room and eat together–effectively scaring off anyone one or more ranks below them. Managers should go to the lunch room alone and join whoever is there as long the people that they join are not in a management or supervisory position. Of course managers should also be eating with their management level subordinates from time to time but I think that likely happens. (But note that front line supervisors are more likely to be thought of as line level employees and not often joined for meals by upper level management.)
How can companies encourage this type behavior?
- Of course modeling is the best way–if the CEO does it frequently maybe the VPs will get the idea and so on down the line.
- What about making “workday social interactions with subordinates” a specific behavior included on the Annual Performance Evaluation.
- Maybe give managers a budget to bring lunch in for the team from time to time.
I hope everyone in management already knows the list of potential dividends these types of activities will yield. For those needing to hear it:
- Better morale
- Less turnover
- More productivity
- Less chance anyone will think a union can make the workplace better!
If you have successes with this idea please let me know.