In Defense of Fun Lunch: Why You Should Break Bread With Your Team

lunch break

Picture this: it’s Friday, and spirits are high in the office. People are chatting, there’s talk of happy hour or a ping pong tournament later in the day. Feeling the office good vibes, you ping a bunch of coworkers over G-chat: Lunch plans today?! How ‘bout a fun lunch?!

Everyone loves the idea, and you pick a time and make a plan, thinking you’re in for a nice, light, leisurely lunch. You even carpool to the restaurant together! Maybe you even splurge and get an iced tea. Cheers to Friday Fun Lunch.

Things start off well. Everyone seems to be having fun, and while ticking through plans for the weekend, talk of life back at the office and recent projects comes up. Wouldn’t you know, it doesn’t take long for someone to get a little gripe-y. Maybe it’s about a missed deadline, or a few sideways words about a coworker who isn’t present at lunch. The mood soon begins to shift, and things slide into familiar but un-fun territory: The Office Bitchfest.

Why Does It Feel So Good?

When you gather a bunch of overworked colleagues together in a casual setting, it’s easiest to break the ice with talk of work. It’s one of the few things everyone can relate to, and more often than not, is top-of-mind during the workday. Add in the fact that getting employees outside of the office and onto neutral territory usually opens them up for more casual, open conversation, and loose office chatter starts to make a whole lot of sense. The problem? It’s never long before venting turn into a full-blown bitchfest.

Anyone who’s been through middle school knows how alluring gossip can be, and not even professional adults are exempt from its clutches. The fact is, as people, we love to gossip. It shows us who our allies are, and in high-stakes situations (like an office), allies are something we crave — even subconsciously. When we slip into these venting sessions, what we’re really looking for from our coworkers is reassurance, and the security that they’ll have our backs should something ever come up.

It also becomes more likely that things will turn sour when you add in booze — say for an office happy hour. A couple drinks in, coworkers tend to feel loose-lipped and fancy free, and more than happy to air their grievances to open ears.

Keep It Balanced

There’s some truth to the notion of keeping work and play separate, but it’s hard to keep our personal lives compartmentalized. And when you consider how much time we spend with our coworkers in the office every day, it makes sense that we’d want to spend time with them outside of it, and get to know them as people, too. Still, the toxicity of employee hangouts had squashed their attractiveness for many professionals for quite a while, and many shy away from things like fun lunches, group outings and happy hours for this very reason.

There’s hope, though! The truth is, staff-outings don’t have to be toxic. In fact, they can actually be sources of morale-boosting fun for your team. As tricky as it is, there are ways to enjoy a fun lunch or happy hour without it veering off into ugly territory. If you’re working alongside a group of well-intentioned colleagues with a tendency to get toxic, try these tricks to keep the fun lunch on track.

  1. Instate a “No Shop Talk” rule. It’s tricky, but sometimes it takes a heavy-handed instruction to keep everyone in line. During your next fun lunch or happy hour, tell everyone to treat the outing like a true break. That means no work talk, no catching up on emails, and moaning about workload or office goings-on. First one to break the rule has to plan the next outing.
  2. Eat fun lunch outside. It’s no secret that sunshine lifts our spirits, and for good reason. The truth is, it’s a lot harder to be negative when you’re enjoying a beautiful day. Grill out, set up a potluck, or have a picnic for the next fun lunch.
  3. Open the invitation to everyone. It’s a lot easier to be negative when you’re in a clique-y environment. Inviting colleagues from other teams or departments ups the odds that you’ll be in mixed company, meaning a bitch fest is way less likely to erupt.
  4. Go ‘round and ‘round. If possible, choose a round table instead of a rectangular one for a large group. The round table makes it easier to see everyone and pop into other conversations (meaning less likelihood of toxic talk).
  5. Take time to celebrate. Finally, whether you’re at a lunch or happy hour, take time to celebrate your coworkers. Whether someone recently bought a house, had a kid graduate, traveled to someplace new, finished a cool project outside of work, or ran a race, take some time at your fun lunch to celebrate the wins. After all, not all of them are professional.

Tell Us What You Think

Fun lunches — are you in favor, or would you rather skip ’em? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.