Your stomach is grumbling, and that bagel you wolfed down on the way to the office wore off hours ago. Your boss wants a progress report by 4 p.m. and your least favorite client is breathing down your neck. Looks like lunch will be just another frozen meal that you inhale at your desk while you answer e-mails. Before you hit the break-room microwave, consider this: Several studies show that getting away from your desk, even for just a half hour, is better for your health and your career.
You might think that skipping the leisurely restaurant lunch will keep you on top of your to-do list, but according to workplace psychologist Janet Scarborough Civitelli, the longer you work without a break, the less you actually get done. Working straight through for eight hours or longer taxes your brain, and you’ll experience fatigue and burnout more quickly than you would if you took even a short breather. While eating at your desk once in a while might help you get something done in a pinch, making a habit of it will eventually make you less enthusiastic about your job.
The American Dietetic Association estimates that nearly three-quarters of workers eat lunch at their desks several times a week – a practice that is not good for their bodies or their productivity. Many people who eat lunch at their desks choose to eat highly processed convenience foods – frozen diet meals full of salt, vending machine snacks and cans of soda – which cause spikes in blood sugar throughout the afternoon. The result? You're ingesting way too many chemicals and too much sodium, and you’re probably going to find yourself in a fog in the afternoon, not to mention in a cranky mood. And it’s not just what you’re eating that’s bad news – it’s how you eat. When you eat at the desk, you’re probably surfing the Web, checking e-mails, reading mail, basically doing everything but focusing on your food. When that happens you tend to eat more, which combined with the fact that you’re sedentary, means the chances of your skinny jeans fitting go down with every skipped lunch break.
Your desk is dirtier than your toilet. That’s right. Your desk contains way more bacteria than the nasty toilet at the gas station down the road. And it’s your own fault: When you eat at your desk every day, you create a bacteria breeding ground. The dirtiest areas of your desk are the phone, the desktop, the computer mouse and the keyboard. So if you’re eating down a sandwich and typing away, you’re also increasing your chances of needing to take a sick day.
That time that your cube mate brought the stinky leftover trout for lunch stands out in your mind – the scent lingered for hours and turned your stomach. Are you sure your lunch doesn’t have the same effect on your co-workers? When you eat at your desk, it’s nearly impossible to avoid creating some sort of aroma or noise that is distracting or annoying to your colleagues. Just think about how irritating it is if you have to sit and listen to someone slurping soup at the next desk over. Taking your break in the office cafeteria or outside keeps your meal from annoying everyone around you and stinking up the office.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.