Families who eat together, stay together.  According to a recent Cornell research study, that saying also holds true for the workplace.  If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to build morale and lower health insurance costs, set aside the off-campus team building activities and learn how even a small budget-sensitive company may capitalize on the benefits of company mealtime by following three easy steps.

Perhaps not surprising to anyone who likes food, eating is a primal tradition which creates a social glue when shared with others.  Think about your last social gathering, neighborhood get-together, or holiday party; they were all centered around what you were going to eat.  Even non-football fans anticipate the Superbowl for one thing: food.  When all other things were controlled, the research team found that sharing meals at work provided value by:

  • Facilitating greater collaborations among co-workers who might otherwise not talk with each other except when they break for eating,
  • Increasing productivity by minimizing time spent traveling for an off-site meal, and
  • Encouraging healthy eating—and lower health insurance costs—through influence over menus.

Many corporations spend money on team building activities and other cohesive bonding practices, but perhaps the focus can be turned inward on the much more basic practice of eating.  With that perspective in mind, here are three steps to help even a small, budget-sensitive company capitalize on this concept:

  1. When considering office space, be sure your company has a cafeteria or workroom where employees are able to sit and enjoy a meal together. If your current office space doesn’t have much space to sit and eat, find a convenient place outside of the office where they could gather on a regular basis, whether it’s in the unfinished office space in the building next door or even the lawn outside.
  1. Create an environment that encourages eating together regularly. This doesn’t mean provide an in-house cafeteria with free food for all employees, although Apple and Google have certainly created a great name for themselves by doing this.  Cater a meal for your employees on a regular basis.  If you can’t afford a fancy sit-down meal of steak and lobster, provide a simple pizza party or host a potluck lunch where you only provide the main course.  You could also hold “Wednesday sack lunch days” where employees bring their lunch from home and you provide dessert.  Emphasize the importance on this time of eating together, get your managers on board, and encourage employees to step outside of their office for at least 30 minutes to eat with coworkers.
  1. If not everyone can take 30 minutes off of work at the same time, have rotating schedules of different work groups who take a planned break to eat together. Be sure that everyone within that workgroup participates in the mealtime.  Introverts may want to avoid the social gathering time, but even those personalities will benefit from a little mealtime bonding.

High employee morale doesn’t have to be a novelty.  Test out the “mundane yet powerful activity of eating” at work, and see large boosts to the bottom line when employees start spending “intimate” mealtime together.  Just ask Google, whose groundbreaking electronic mail program, Gmail, was born from a lunchroom conversation.  For more information, please contact us.

Laura Lancaster, PHR, SHRM-CP

Author Laura Lancaster, PHR, SHRM-CP

Along with being a Master of Human Resources, Laura is a master of communicating and provides her clients with world-class customer service. She can really cut some rug on the country swing dance floor and enjoys musical theater in between motorcycle rides.

More posts by Laura Lancaster, PHR, SHRM-CP