Friday, May 28, 2010

When Did We Stop Eating in the Cafeteria?

Did you spend your lunch hour today at your desk on a critical conference call? Or maybe, you ate at your desk while furiously working on a project that was due at 1pm? If you were having a good day, maybe you ate at your desk catching up on e-mails and returning phone calls.

When was the last time you ate in the cafeteria with colleagues? Or, if you work in a small office or at home, when was the last time you went out for lunch with colleagues?

When was the last time you actually had a true unscheduled lunch break?

I may be one of a rare breed (okay, that means I’m old enough) that remembers actually eating in the cafeteria with friends and colleagues. We looked forward to it every day. It wasn’t just about food. It was a chance to get to know each other. We could catch up on who won the high school game the night before, or whose parents were coming to visit, or who was redesigning their kitchen.

I remember when we didn’t feel guilty for going out to lunch, or eating in the cafeteria. It was a chance to connect. And in doing so, we knew more about our colleagues than what their job responsibilities were. We felt like a team.

When did eating lunch become a luxury?

Is there a connection between when we stopped eating in the cafeteria and when we started to become distant and impersonal with our colleagues? What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Another insightful posting. Thank-you.

I was taught a long time ago that successful organisations get the balance right between task, team, and individual.

Teams are necessary because to put it simple stupid, big complicated stuff can't be done by one person.

If the organisation does not look after individuals, sooner or later they will take their skills and experience elsewhere.

I think too few professionals have been involved in good teams so don't realise how "powerful" they are. What you have never had, you don't miss.

Too many managers can achieve their targets by just focussing short term on "task".


Dave E said...

There certainly seems to have been a devolution away from the the sort of social opportunities that things like lunch can create. Sometime I think that the largest informal social circle at my place of work is the smoker's corner (outdoors since we are non smoking environment).

I suspect that the use of tools like email over the years has turned us into isolationists more than we'd like to admit. We sit at our computers so much on our own that we've come to prefer it to actually interacting with people.
That said, I guess that if you are a social butterfly type of person (like my wife, not me!) then you'll go out of your way to meet up with people anyway. In the end it's still about individual choices. There's nothing stopping people from entering social situations, we've just gotten so used to using so called social software that we thing that using that makes us social. Maybe it should be called unsocial software!

KarenG said...

I always like this peek into corporate culture I get by reading your blog. Makes me want to go watch Baby Boom.

Dave E said...

As much as I like having an office to myself I miss working in an open plan office. I always felt far more connected to my fellow workers in cubical-ville. Social interaction was far more spontaneous. Maybe that part has been replaced by twitter!

Is that just another symptom of the same sort of thing.

Thanks for the great posts by the way. I always look forward to Friday's now. Well, I did anyway but now it's not just because it's the weekend :)

Colette said...

Karen - If Baby Boom doesn't do it for you try Mad Men -- love that show!

Peter and Dave E - the other aspect to this is that people are so overworked they don't feel like they can take the time to interact.

Dave E - I've got a post on twitter planned... coming soon

Anon_e_mouse said...

Maybe it's a symptom of getting older, but in more recent years I have found that the background noise level in the cafeteria - while probably not any different than it ever has been - is sufficient that I can't clearly understand anyone with whom I am talking. I do miss it, though; my partial solution to the loss of that spontaneity and camaraderie has been to show up a few minutes early for my weekly team meetings (having reserved the conference room for 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start) and bring food (homemade, of course). We'd all hang out for a bit, noshing away, and we were all caught up on everyone's doings and ready to buckle down and get to work when the meeting was actually scheduled to begin. Not only that, but everyone was usually there when the meeting was actually supposed to start, so we didn't have to wait for people or repeat half the agenda for the benefit of those who drifted in late.

Colette said...

Anon e mouse, what a great idea! Thanks for sharing that!

Anonymous said...

This is a blog I can definitely relate to. Collette seems to really have her finger on the pulse of contemporary corporate culture. What I find to be the reason of fewer and fewer lunch sessions with co-workers is due to the fact that the department environment is too suspicious. What I mean by that is that oftentimes when you get a lunch invite the first question that pops in your mind is "What does so and so want to grill me about today?" or "Who did what this time and what info do I have about the situation?" I think the depressed economic situation has made employees fear for their jobs so much that it has produced more than usual backbiting, posturing, and info-seeking missions. Being in legal means you need to pick your lunchmates very carefully and always be on your guard which doesn't make for pleasant dining experiences with colleagues so opting for the lonely is just safer.

Colette said...

Anonymous, I'm glad you find us!

Anonymous said...

Cafeteria? what cafeteria? I never worked in an IBM building (Torrance, Seattle) that even had a lunch room much less a cafeteria. Obviously the cost cutting started before I got there.