Mandatory Lunch?

My friend works at a school with about 100 other faculty and staff. The school provides lunch for all employees as well as the students. The lunch is generally healthy and offers a lot of variety as well as being free for employees so it is generally a popular option. Most employees eat lunch in the cafeteria most days. Although previously the school had also offered “to-go” containers so the faculty could take a lunch back to their desks if desired.

Recently, however, the principal issued a “strong recommendation” that employees eat in the cafeteria every day. In order to encourage this behavior further the “to-go” containers were removed and the faculty was asked not to remove dishes from the cafeteria. The principal made this decision because he truly wanted to encourage a sense of community between faculty and staff members.

The results of this action were decidedly mixed. Some people welcomed the encouragement to eat with colleagues and because eating together had been deemed a priority by the administration, they did not have to feel guilty about socializing instead of grading papers over the lunch hour. One person noted that she always enjoyed eating with her colleagues but needed a little kick in the butt to get her up from her desk every day.

On the other hand, some people were annoyed that they were being told what to do with their supposed break time. While they might still choose to spend their lunch hours in the cafeteria, the proclamation felt like yet another responsibility on their already overloaded schedules.

Grudgingly or not, the change has started to have the desired effect. Faculty and staff are not only eating in the cafeteria more regularly, they are starting to eat in different configurations – not just sitting down with the people who are in their departments or who they talk to every day.

What do you think? Can you create community by requiring employees to spend some of their down time together? Or should it be up to the employee to allocate his or her time in that way?

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