On the importance of eating lunch together
Just stumbled across this post over at Joel Spolsky's programming blog.
The importance of eating together with your co-workers is not negotiable, to me. It’s too important to be left to chance. That’s why we eat together at long tables, not a bunch of little round tables. That’s why when new people start work at the company, they’re not allowed to sit off by themselves in a corner. When we have visitors, they eat together with everyone else.
Working mostly alone here on the West coast (Hi, Hazel!), I get where he's coming from. As tiresome as "team building excercises" can be, ensuring that everyone has a place at the table can make the difference between a fun-job and a slog-job. A little collective boost to the blood-sugar helps not only make colleagues into friends, but it helps make the workplace into some kind of community.
Joel notes in the article that how a company handles lunch shows how they view their employees, although he seems chiefly concerned with the legacy of high-school cliqueishness (which no doubt left a lasting impression on the software industry). For my part, I've worked in places that either neglected lunch arrangements, or even discouraged collective lunches, and it always seemed like an expression of a rather ruthless and controlling view of employees as atomized money-machines, competing against one another for some limited pool of pay and respect.
But rather than encouraging productive competition, undercutting community feeling actually led to counter-productive isolation; rather than working hard to grow company profits and grab a bigger slice of the pie, folks merely felt disconnected from their jobs and their co-workers. This led to a sluggy, unproductive workplace: you can hardly compete with the guy in the next cube if you don't care.
I read (but can't now find online) that when French astronauts joined Americans and others at the ISS, besides having marginally better food, they lobbied hard to get more time to eat meals; eating together was a bare-minimum requirement. While studying in China, I was struck by the same phenomena: it was expected that classmates would dine together. Meals were recognized as an integral part of the "job".
Of course, I AM an American, and a long-time practitioner of solo eating and and the pleasures of a noon-day book. But I suspect I'd like working for Joel; he understands that people, even programers, are as much body as brain.
To quote Epicurus, culture's patron philosopher, "We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf."
Photo by Shawn Campbell