Why Eating at Your Desk Isn’t So Bad for You

Even though it’s still pretty depressing.

Eating lunch at your desk may make for a more productive afternoon at work, according to a new study published in the journal Plos One. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Take it from someone with experience: Eating lunch at your desk can be downright depressing.

But new research suggests that (somehow) it may be make you a better employee than those who eat leisurely lunches out with friends.

For the study, researchers in Berlin sought out to determine whether eating out with an “agreeable” companion affects employees’ psyches. They first had 32 female participants undergo various tests, which required them to determine the similarity between certain words and process various facial emotions as happy, angry, or neutral. Later, half the group went to an Italian restaurant for lunch with a friend of their choice.

Participants and their guests chose from a menu of pizza, pasta, and nonalcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks, enjoying their meals for one hour with background music and table service. The control group was assigned a meal and only had 20 minutes to eat it, in silence, in a small office space.

Post-meal, every participant returned to the lab to take the same tests as they did before lunch.

Researchers found that women in the experimental group were, not surprisingly, in a calmer and “less wakeful state” than the control group. They also found that those who were treated to lunch with a friend performed worse in the cognitive control tests, while the control group increased their test scores by about 40 percent, thus suggesting in-office lunches make for more productive employees.

But researchers note that the findings only apply to certain types of employees. For example, decreased cognitive control is a disadvantage for jobs that require close attention to detail, such as lab scientists or factory workers. However, when “social harmony or creativity is desired,” the researchers wrote, eating lunch out with coworkers may prove to be a positive.

The full study was published in the journal Plos One