Benefits & Compensation News

The hidden danger of the working lunch

Many folks take a working lunch at their desks once in awhile. We all need to get our work done, right?

But evidence suggests that eating at work stations is only a short-term productivity booster and can do more harm than good if it’s a regular habit.

One report found that people who routinely eat meals at their desks at work are twice as likely to be exposed to germs that can cause serious illnesses. Long-term result: Higher absenteeism costs.

Roughly 70% of Americans with desk jobs say they take working lunches at least three days a week. Most employees – and their supervisors – mistakenly believe that eating at their desks makes people more productive during the work day. In the short term, it may. But it the long run, the behavior often leads to higher absenteeism and lower productivity via preventable illnesses.

Unappetizing facts

A study conducted in 2006 found that the typical office workspace contains 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. The biggest bacteria colonies are usually found on telephones, computer keyboards and desktop surfaces.

In the real-life workplace, it’s a losing battle to try to convince most supervisors and employees not to eat at their desks. But the study says employers have seen lower absenteeism/presenteeism by taking three simple steps:

1. Give employees mini-bottles of instant hand sanitizer to keep at their desks.
2. Provide people sanitizing wipes for their work spaces (damp napkins and cloths just spread the germs around the surface).
3. Educate employees about the need for frequent hand washing with warm water – not hot or cold. Even in healthcare settings, this message often takes awhile to set in anding and requires frequent repetition. But the end results are worth it.

Increased obesity risk

There’s a second hidden danger that can affect your company’s costs: higher risks of overweight and obese employees.

People who frequently eat at their desks are less likely to be careful about the portions they consume, less likely to choose healthy foods and somewhat less likely to exercise during the day.

Wellness programs can help employers cut these risks, but it all starts with workplace culture and employee education.

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