Is eating at your desk really that bad for you?

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HRM has reported on the virtues of eating away from one’s desk a number of times. Eating at your desk is meant to be depressing, unhygienic and unhealthy. Other studies have demonstrated the health risks of being seated for long periods.

However, those managers who are demanding their employees eat lunch in the park might be doing more harm than good. A new study from The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto indicates the driving factor of a positive lunch is giving the employee choice.

"We found that a critical element was having the freedom to choose whether to [eat at your desk] or not," John Trugakos, associate professor in the Department of Management at the University of Toronto, said. "The autonomy aspect helps to offset what we had traditionally thought was not a good way to spend break time."

The study surveyed a range of administrative employees at a North American university, asking participants what they did during their lunch breaks over a 10-day period. The researchers then asked participants to report on how fatigued their co-workers were at the end of each day.

Working through lunch did result in higher levels of fatigue, however this was reduced if the employees felt doing so was their own choice. Socializing through lunch also led to higher fatigue levels, relating to whether the workers felt free to decide who to socialize with (or if they wanted to do so at all).

Lunchtime socializing draining employees can also be due to conversations surrounding work, as well as employees being on edge about what they say to their colleagues or superiors. "You're hanging out with people who you can't necessarily kick back and be yourself with," Trougakos said.

Workers who chose to perform relaxing activities during lunch had the lowest levels of fatigue.

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