A Hunch about Lunch

One of the most important communities in daily life is the work community. What do I look for in a workplace community? Well, there are a few key factors, but the latest to be added to my wish list is ‘a place where people eat lunch”.

Sharing a meal is one of the most powerful ways to build community and being “a place where people eat lunch” can benefit a workplace both culturally and in terms of productivity. Unfortunately, I have been noticing a major absence of shared meals in my working life and have heard this same thing echoed among many of my peers. I’m starting to think I’m going to have to move to Europe to locate this appreciation for the mid-day meal.

North American Culture prides itself on hard work and ambition. Michael Pollan, in his book, In Defense of Food; An Eater’s Manifesto, suggests that as an effect of this ideology, North American’s view food as merely utilitarian fuel rather than something to be enjoyed for it’s own sake. He brings up several examples of the stark difference between North American attitudes to food as compared to European attitudes the most striking example given is a comparison where American and French people are shown a picture of a piece of chocolate cake and asked what word it brings to mind. The most common American reaction is “guilt” while the most common French reaction is “celebration”!

Perhaps it can be chalked up to the fact that I was raised with a European attitude towards food, but I do not believe that eating a protein bar at my desk can be classified as lunch. Nor do I believe that it can have any long-term benefits to my employer or my career. I can see some very real and lasting benefits however, in taking a ½ hour to share a meal with my co-workers.

Sharing a meal is the fastest way to establish shared experiences, which are the building blocks of community. With strong community comes creativity because two heads really are better than one (and all heads are significantly more powerful when they receive more than just caffeine as a stimulus).  Creativity can invigorate a workplace and make its entire workforce more productive and motivated in all of their working hours.

Each of these outcomes produces more powerful benefits than that extra ½ hour in front of the computer and these are just a few of the benefits to be had when you turn your work place into a place where people eat lunch. If you aren’t lucky enough to work in one of these places already, why don’t you try something new for lunch today?

Vacations and Canada’s Work Ethic

Courtesy of Vinay Shivakumar and Flickr's Creative Commons

Congratulations, Canada! Your people take fewer holidays than folks in any other nation on Earth. Even China. That’s right, we here in the Great White North work more hours than people in a country that is in possession of a socio-political ideology that fuses hyper-capitalism and neo-communism.

Wow. Just writing that paragraph made me tired. I need a vacation.

Recently in up-and-coming “newspaper” the The Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson wrote a piece called “We work hard, they enjoy life” – the columnist not only showcases how far behind Canadians are from the global average of vacation days (which is just under 30), but Ibbitson also outlines that, according to a 2010 Ipsos/Reuters poll, less than 60% of Canadians actually make full use of our paltry number of vacation days. A study by the human capital consulting firm Mercer found that, on average, Canadian employers offer a meager minimum of 10 vacation days and just nine statutory holidays. China offers up two more holidays, the Americans are given about 15 days of vacation, and nearly 90% of the French use up all of their 40 days of vacation per year.

Unreal.

This got me thinking about productivity. There are quite literally millions of opinions and thousands of articles and blog posts on the subject and, as a hopefully productive leader of Canada’s experiential learning community, I felt it was important to explore this topic further.

Courtesy of Woodleywonderworks and Flickr's Creative Commons

I love the rumour/fact that the French are in possession of the most productive economy on the planet. The argument that the French get the most done while spending the least amount of time at work was recently put forward by Business Insider‘s John Carney and Vincent Fernando. The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC, however, counter with some solid arguments about American productivity – not only do Americans spend more time at work, but they also produce more wealth-per-person than anywhere else.

Look.

Whether true productivity comes from France or America it is pretty darn clear that it does not come from Canada. In fact, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada has been on a bit of a productivity slide lately. This idea has been more recently affirmed by the The Star. We collectively contribute to billions of dollars in lost productivity each year because of illness (coming to work when we’re sick and/or hurting ourselves by working too much), mental health (burning out from the stress of what we do for a living), and not being able to clone Kurt Heinrich.

The logic of Spock is not needed to determine that our vacation days – or lack thereof – have something to do with our could-be-a-heckuvalot-better levels of productivity.

On my own I can’t change Canada’s number of statutory holidays. Only you writing to the most powerful man in the country, Steve Nash, can begin to solve this problem. What I can offer are some peer-reviewed and experientially proven strategies for making people happy. Because happy workers are productive workers. Here are some options to explore.

Let the record show that any idea must jive with the values, mission and service standards of the company (e.g. if your clients are on site at nine o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night for seven days a week then it doesn’t make sense to arrive at eleven o’clock in the morning and work until six o’clock, right?) and the fairness of any decision should apply across all units. And, let’s face it, ideas like these are way more applicable for nimble organizations, as the scalability of “dogs in the office” at, say, the University of British Columbia is pretty darn unrealistic and, if poorly rolled out, could quite possibly result in over 12,000 canines on campus at the same time. Such a thing could take the adorableness of puppies at work down a few notches.

So there it is. Simple ideas can make people happy. And if people are happy we’ll be more productive. And if we’re more productive then maybe – just maybe – Canada will earn one or two more vacation days!