Food & The Workplace Culture: You are what you eat.

How conscious eating habits positively impact your wellbeing and your company’s culture.

It’s 7 PM and I’m standing in front of the supermarket’s fresh fruit and vegetable displays. What shall I cook today, or do I fancy a quick dish from the Vietnamese restaurant right across the street? As always, the usual goods make it into my basket, without even trying to find a suitable 10 minute Pinterest recipe on beforehand. Somehow I find it contradictory, this undecidedness and acting in the heat of the moment, to satisfy my hunger. Because actually, I do have a great passion for (good) food. Cooking together, all sitting around the table and always having more enough on our plates, is one of my core childhood memories. Talking about lunch at breakfast, and at lunch about dinner. And then, starting all over again. Good food is valuable, important and, in particular: it creates a feeling of unity and belonging.

In today’s world of Deliveroo’s 15-minute food delivery, uncountable choices of restaurants, bars and fast food chains, which, especially in Berlin, bring together almost every country’s cuisine there is, it can be tough to decide — and yes, this is definitely a #FirstWorldProblem. Life has become faster, more flexible, spontaneous and diverse. Not least because of the vastness of the internet and resulting businesses like the Airbnbs, Car2Gos or Amazons. These examples of the new economy have passed classic hotels, car retailers, and stores for quite some time now. Nowadays, each individual decides on the spot, which choice seems to be the right one.

How do I want to work and where do I want to live? What do I want to eat? Where do I want to take my next vacation to? Ultimately, it’s a question of time, the new currency of our post-industrial society. What are the things that are important enough that I’m willing to spend the necessary time?

And that’s where one fact remains undisputed: It’s time to make conscious decisions on our own wellbeing.

The Future of Work: For the benefit of individuals and humankind.

In the new world of work, we’re experiencing a shift of focus from caring about the system to caring about the individual. Hence, the challenges for today’s companies are much more around:

How can we provide a long-term added value for our client in order to put our product to good use? How can we create a workspace for our employees that allows both creative brainstormings and deep work? What leadership style does a Millennial project manager need, compared with a more experienced web developer?

The transformation to the future of work is fueled not only by technological progress, the global interconnection, and societal value change but particularly by the next generation. The Millennial generation, which I am part of as well, that seems to find itself in the dilemma of “I do exactly know what I don’t want” and “But I don’t really know what I want instead of either”. Obviously, no generation should be viewed with a one size fits all approach, yet the Millennials have grown up in a quite unique time of digital business models and media, hunger for innovation and startup cultures.

Here in Germany, companies are on their way to a new world of work, which, at its core, is not much different from the old one. In truth, basic human needs are expressed more openly on an individual basis, rather than mentioned over the office grapevine. To put it more clearly: Today it’s not the company that chooses its employee, but the human who chooses to make a contribution to a certain company.

The shift towards an individualization and humanization of work, which ultimately lays the foundation of a desirable future economy for me, has begun. If you look at startups like Holacracy-organized soulbottles, purpose-driven hotel businesses like Upstalsboom or newly adapted collaborative methods like Working-Out-Loud at Siemens.

More than ever, this calls to action for each individual’s capability of self-guidance, willingness to take on responsibility and safe handling of the freedom of choice. Besides flexible work hours, skill-based team design, digital communication tools and futuristic workspace designs, there’s one place of encounter, that is often neglected: The lunch break.

Food is an expression of individual cultures.

Lunchtime provides space for conversations and encounter, where private and professional lives seamlessly intertwine, in the face of everyone’s daily busyness. Similar to the office grapevine, where new gossip stories are born, lunch invites to complain about the canteen food quality, but also to share personal concerns or plans. I’m sure, everyone remembers the feeling their first day in a new job, where certain lunch rituals speak for themselves.

The range goes from regular team lunches in the canteen, smaller groups looking for best options in the area or bringing prepped lunch from home. I’ve experienced different versions, from Desktop Lunches (google the awesome photo gallery of ‘Failure to Lunch’) to superfood restaurants. Though habits and personal preferences seem to be different, at the core, they have one thing in common: We’re most likely to take enough time to eat properly.

Lunch has become a necessity, instead of a pleasure in a social community. The most popular explanation why people don’t eat healthier is the same: They lack time and calmness, says a study by ‘Techniker Krankenkasse’ ‘Iss was Deutschland 2017’. Moreover, it is shown that there has been a significant change in our eating habit, both private and at work, as apparently, scrolling on our smartphones have become the most beautiful triviality in the world. An additional stress factor that is growing due to the lack of choices at lunch.

We need more diversity, just like we require it for the ‘new work’ practices in our team collaboration and communication. The freedom of choice at lunchtime needs to be incorporated more into the company’s culture. And there are first ideas, following the sustainability and mindfulness movement, which contribute back to one’s healthy productivity and supports interhuman exchange. As mentioned, food creates a feeling of unity and belonging.

Co-Eating or no one likes to eat alone.

In order to establish a food culture that fits with the shift in the working world, it’s necessary to make the following transparent and aligned: individual needs and habits shared values and a clear intention. Whether new lunch rituals are intended to increase employee satisfaction, interdisciplinary communication or dismantling hierarchies and as insignificant as it sounds, I really do believe that shared lunchtime contributes to the connection of one’s own identity to the company’s purpose.

Inspiring ways for co-eating at work

  • Cooking together once a week, or how soulbottles does it: every day. To do so, there are many helpful services that deliver all ingredients necessary. Prepping food, revealing hidden cooking skills and enjoying a shared meal together is a great way to build relationships and create a human working environment.
  • Fresh food at the office: The Swiss company FELFEL replaces the good old canteen with an intelligent fridge that provides a weekly, individually curated and balanced menu.
  • Cooperate with food trucks or set a Delivery Day once a week, where the company invites everyone to get together for a shared lunch delivery of choice — Airbnb, Eventbrite and LinkedIn say this works great.
  • Lunch Roulette: Whether you want to use the app Lunchzeit or have your own system figured out, the basic idea is to have lunch spontaneously, following the ‘Tinder way’, and make contact with people outside one’s own team.
  • Lunch & Learn: Once a week or a month, the whole team or company (depending on your size) come together to have lunch, while one or two colleagues or external experts share insights on a relevant topic or present their latest project.
  • Virtual Lunch: Global remote teams like oDesk, now Upwork, don’t want to miss out the shared lunchtime and therefore use Google Hangout to meet virtually- why not?
  • Food where I’m from: How about organizing a culinary journey to one’s country of origin for a week? That’s probably the best way to understand different cultures — co-eating far away from the usual.

What remains important for successfully integrating a suitable food culture is the degree of adaptability of the company’s culture and, simultaneously, a high involvement of its leaders and management teams. It’s their responsibility to deliver a clear message to all employees, that there’s no more desktop lunches or isolation, but an actual hour of lunchtime, to eat, connect and socialize. Without this insight, there can be no change.

From ‘I need’ to ‘I choose’

The daily eating of every individual needs to change if we choose to build future workplaces that sustain healthier. Instead of saying ‘Oh I need to grab something to eat quickly’, we have to learn to say, consciously, ‘I choose to’. After all, language manifests changed minds and habits. 
Regarding work cultures that celebrate collaborative efforts and promote innovative and creative ideas, we need true wellbeing and a healthy, daily energy supply. Food is not only necessary to maintain the functions of our bodies, but self-regulation. It’s not without a reason that we say: ‘You are what you eat.’ Opening up our minds beyond our own horizon, we can already learn lots from other cultures.

France, for example, a geographically close country to Germany, seems to be so far away — spoken from the culinary aspect. Whether on private or work time, culinary pleasure and an extensive lunch always come first, as it is viewed as the most important meal of the day. In Italy, food culture is also associated with staying in touch and understanding the importance of being part of a community. In the more northern area of Europe, in Sweden, the famous Fika, the coffee break with co-workers or family, is considered as a social institution. What remains striking is the ever-present and unique identity creation of the respective food culture. As in China, for instance, it is highly relevant in the context of business relationships and a harmonious feeling of solidarity. Or, look at Korea, the country of Mukbang, video streaming a delicious meal. Virtual, however, still a form of social interaction and connection.

The last stop I’d like to make on this digital culinary trip, is in Mumbai, India, where an unparalleled logistics system of lunch boxes puts the importance of eating on a high level, automatically. There, lunch is pre-cooked at home and is delivered at lunchtime sharp — by the dabbawalas on bikes. With a view to other cultures, I want to emphasize again, on the consciousness for good, healthy food in a world, where work and life are constantly accompanied by a daily dose of stress, where meditation and yoga are hyped, and where we need more conversations about culinary pleasures, that reconnect us with our very basic needs as humans. Becoming aware, conscious and intuitively clear what our bodies need will ultimately help to work more productive, focused and creatively.

Let us consciously make decisions for our own wellbeing in order to achieve a positive impact on our work cultures of the future. Or, to put it in my introductory words: Good food is valuable, important and, in particular: it creates a feeling of unity and belonging.


Thanks for reading!

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