Tales of an Organisational Anthropologist: Commensality in the workplace09 Dec 2015
In most traditions, families that eat dinner together, at a table and with the television off, are seen as the ideal.
According to a 2011 study by Columbia University, teenagers who frequently eat dinner with their families (5 – 7 times per week) are less likely to use alcohol and tobacco.
Family dinners are about bringing members together, to share news and maintain strong relationships. But they are also about sharing individual experiences on a range of activities and processes, which is a priceless resource to have.
Could business leaders and managers learn something from this tradition?
Software developers who ate lunch with other employees wrote 10 per cent more code than those who ate solo.
How eating together improves the workplace
Commensality is the anthropological concept that refers to the sharing of food at the same table, with the goal of generating and/or maintaining social relationships between people.
Throughout human history, food has been an indicator of social differentiation. It tends to define the boundaries between social groups and social hierarchy, which can entail class, status and power.
Yet, if food is an indicator of difference, sharing food with others can symbolise the deconstruction of these very boundaries. Think about how different social and ethnic groups use food to encourage social cohesion.
At New Year’s, for example, Vietnamese people will eat a Tet cake while Chinese families will eat Yu Sheng. Think about your own traditions and how important they are to the closeness you feel with your family and friends.
Sharing food is a way of encouraging collaboration, organisational citizenship behaviours and a general sense of wellbeing within your office.
In a recent NPR article, a startup called Humanyze fitted office workers with microphones, accelerometers and wireless tags to track the use of office space.
For one client, they found that software developers who ate lunch with large groups or other employees wrote 10 per cent more code than those who ate solo or with only a few peers.
How can I implement this in my workplace?
There are a range of ways you can utilise commensality without resorting to following staff around.
You could buy a bigger lunch table, which may persuade employees to eat together. Or you could have a shared lunch, encouraging employees to try other employees’ foods.
Commensality is a way of improving the quality of life, chances of success and workplace health of your employees. It is inexpensive and relatively easy to organise.
To find out other approaches that promote healthy social relationships between employees follow this link.