Why eating at the work desk should be banned, BHP-style


Eating at the work desk can bring out the inner Hulk in fellow workers (iStockphoto).


BHP got roasted by the press recently for a draconian policy that stipulates what staff can and can’t eat at their desks at its new West Australian headquarters. Soup is off the desk-scoff menu, as is fruit, chocolate, nuts and “other nibble food”. However, staff have the corporate sign-off to consume a “sensible amount of lollies” at their station. Bring on the Jelly Babies, that’s what i say. 

It’s not that staff can’t eat on the job. But they can only eat certain things, in certain places. Employees must stick to designated hot and cold eating areas to keep on the right side of the BHP food police. Woe betide anyone found slobbering soup or scattering crumbage across those whiz-bang new keyboards.

BHP management believe that designated eating areas will promote well-being and encourage their minions to interact.

“It also helps us maintain a clean and comfortable workplace and makes sure that sounds or smells in the open-plan environment don’t distract others, particularly strong odors from heated foods,” according to a BHP document that explained the policy to staff.

A BHP spokeswoman said the company’s clear-desk policy – which also includes restrictions on the size and number of photograph frames and the duration that flowers can be displayed – allowed for hot-desking (whereby multiple workers use the same workstation at different times) “with little fuss”.

About a week after BHP’s tough no-eating-at-the-desk policy made national headlines, i was slurping minestrone soup at my desk at work. It was a particularly aromatic concoction, thanks to recipe doyenne Jill Dupleix, that contained eight different veggies, plus beans, pasta and the genius addition of pesto.

I wasn’t dribbling it. But the smell was clearly penetrating my section of the news room.

“If you worked at BHP you wouldn’t be able to eat that there,” a manager quipped as he walked past.

I pondered that comment as i multi-tasked my way through dinner and a mounting work-load, and contributed to the company’s super high productivity ratio. (It must have one, after all most of my colleagues are to be found fueling up at the desk while banging out a news story most lunch times.)

This eat-at-the-desk culture certainly isn’t discouraged. I wish it was, frankly. It’s dangerous.

I quite often feel like rugby tackling the bloke behind me when he lifts the lid off his plastic container of hot food. Not because it stinks. But because it smells so good. And i often find it difficult to contain myself on the food front.

On the other hand, i recently heard a colleague being lambasted by those who shared his “pod” after he re-heated, and returned to his desk with, a salmon dish.

Many of us have bad eating habits that would be best discouraged — BHP-style — in the workplace. Personally, i hate the sound of someone hoeing into a bag of crisps right next to me. And apple eaters bring out my inner Hulk, too. All that moist crunching, sucking and slobbering is seriously unattractive in a work-mate.

Admittedly, I have my own foibles. I’m an afternoon nibbler. Sunflower seeds, pepitas, and nuts are my snack foods of choice. And they’re devilish difficult to get out of the keyboard.

I changed roles, and desks, recently. As i was cleaning my old desk i turned the keyboard upside down and gave it a good shake. Enough seeds, nuts and grains fell out to fill a bowl with fluff and muesli.

Unfortunately, my deplorable desk-snacking habit has come back to bite me. I’m currently a reluctant hot-desker. Cleaning up the detritus of someone else’s desk-bound consumption is part and parcel of my new gig. I’m seriously pissed off about it.

I’m going to wreak revenge on the workplace today, though. I’m taking in leftover Ethiopian chicken. There are 11 different spices in the spice mix.

If i eat it close enough to the boss’ office, he might banish me to the kitchen. Fingers crossed.



Filed under Food Issues

20 responses to “Why eating at the work desk should be banned, BHP-style

  1. I too work in a newsroom and I too eat lunch at my desk most days. I know it is unhealthy and I know it is rude but when you’ve got a huge workload and you only work part-time you need to do whatever it takes. I’d take a desk eater over a grot who leaves their dirty stuff in the work kitchen any day…


    • Yep … our kitchen is a grot magnet, too. I particularly detest the food that has gone off at the back of the fridge. And every so often the food police have a fridge purge and chuck away all the decent, in-date stuff, too. Annoying. I guess the trick is … not to go to work! I must figure out a way to make this happen!


  2. Hah, this comment from she who gobbled down sultanas and walnuts (the best and freshest variety possible) at 9am, followed by an in house latte (made by moi), then an apple sliced and eaten over the course of 30 minutes, followed by a bagel sans filling. All before 11.00am! Of course, lunch time came and went and I worked through, oblivious to the time, but then I wandered to the fundraiser chokes at 3pm for a Picnic. Gah! Yes, ban eating at desks and make people step out for a breath of fresh air and a proper amount of time to eat some good, health food, slowly!


    • When i first started at the AFR – eons ago – i constantly got caught, by the same senior colleague, bolting down food at my desk. It became a bit of a joke between us. He never passed my desk without making a remark about food … he’d usually comment on the fact that i wasn’t eating something, which he considered to be unusual. In hindsight – and when one thinks about all the things you could have a reputation for in the workplace (great team leadership, eye for detail, commitment to the cause and all that jazz) being reputed as a food guzzler is probably not a good thing! Thanks for dropping by Lizzy. Sorry i’ve been out of touch.


  3. I giggled out loud at reading this because yesterday I was caught fishing a sunflower seed out of my keyboard with a paperclip! I am glad I am not the only one…
    I like to eat my lunch away from my desk however because it allows me time away from the computer, it also allows me to appreciate whatever it is that I am munching on that day.


    • We have more in common than we thought, Anna! At least you just had one sunflower seed trapped in your keyboard. I’m ashamed to say, i had quite a stash! Unfortunately i’m working an evening shift at work these days, so i have to eat dinner at work. And time-wise, it’s just not a good time for me to be away from the desk. Somebody needs to be there … and most other people have gone home. It generally takes me 4 minutes to heat something up in the microwave and bolt back to the desk with it. Somebody needs to be ‘manning the station’ … which means eating at the desk is the only option. Shame.


  4. Wonderful! I share an office with three people (one of whom does not eat at all) and i eat my lunch at my desk. I do so because i like to get out inmy lunch hour and go for a walk or bike ride (we have a great workplace here)! We love food in our department, and often people can be found, nose in air, trying to track down the source of a particularly good aroma! “hmm, whose lunch is that? Smells good!”. Tuna and camel’s-armpit-curry though are bad.


    • It sounds like you have a very collegial atmosphere! Do you ever sample one another’s lunch, i wonder? It’s far more cut-throat in my workplace. Everyone loves someone who has a nice smelling lunch … but as you say, camel’s armpit curry (never come across that one!) is a work relationship killer. Thanks for dropping by.


      • We don’t share lunch, but we have shared recipes! And, as a predominantly female workplace, we even share our chocolate in times of need!


      • I have to admit, i have a few colleagues at work who i share recipes with. And one in particular keeps me well stocked in cakes and other treats that he brings from home. Bring on the mid-afternoon sugar fix!


  5. Melleemoo

    My keyboard is fairly disgusting.. i tip it over occasionally, but i don’t think it does the trick… At my old work we actually gave out an award each month for the Best Lunchbox, and it was quite the competition in the kitchen for people to compare what they had cooked. I think your work colleagues should be overjoyed to smell your ethipian chicken, and if they aren’t asking you for the recipe then there is something wrong with them!


    • Love the idea of the Best Lunchbox award. I must admit, there is a small contingent at work that flock around each others concoctions in the kitchen oohing and ahhing over what has been brought to work. But it’s very much a ‘heads down, bums up’ kind of working environment. Food is fuel, mostly!


  6. I miss how things were in Australia 🙂 In Switzerland, the simple rule is: no eating at your desk. Thankfully, most companies provide a nice canteen where you can buy and eat your breakfast and lunch (the food is usually pretty good), or at least a kitchen area where you can sit down and eat your homemade lunch properly. If anyone is caught eating at their desk, there is a 99% chance they are a foreigner (i.e. non-Swiss), with a 99% chance that it won’t happen again.

    Why? It’s not so much to discourage one from reheating last night’s curry and stinking out the office for a few days, but it’s just that the culture in Switzerland is to take a proper lunch break – a whole hour whereby you will sit down to a 2 or 3 course hot meal, followed by a quick coffee to perk you up and, if the weather is nice, perhaps a stroll outside before heading back to your desks.

    After many years of these leisurely lunches, I’m not sure I could eat in front of a computer ever again 😉


    • I wish Australian workplaces were like those in Switzerland. What a lovely work – and food – culture to have. We’re our own worst enemies, i suppose. It’s a shame. But not something i expect is likely to change here.


  7. It’s been quite a while since I worked in an office, but when I did there was no eating at all at the desk – but smoking was mandatory!! When I think back to the fug in the office I cringe.
    And one of our staff members was so anal about the hygiene of the crockery in the communal kitchen that she used to bring all of her own things in every day, surgically wrapped to keep them clean in the car on the way in. God knows how she coped with the air quality!


  8. I must admit i use my own cutlery and crockery at work. But that’s partly because we’re supplied with plastic cutlery and nothing else. We all mostly have our own plates, etc. And if you leave them in the kitchen, they’re never seen again! Fortunately i’ve never worked in an office where smoking was allowed. But some journos still have an alcohol stash somewhere about their workstation … Scotch is a particular tipple of choice. It can steel your nerves when you’re staring down the barrel of a deadline … apparently!


  9. Totally have to hand it to BHP. My keyboard looks like there are crumbs everywhere and you can clearly see the keys that get used the most along with the stains that just won’t wipe away. But like always I’ll continue to eat at my desk, that’s just how it has to happen. Deadlines need to be met!


  10. Indeed, drastic measures are called for when you’re staring down the barrel of a deadline! Thanks for dropping by.


  11. I once read that office workers in France are given a stipend to use at certain restaurants, canteens and cafes at lunch time. The goal is to get people away from their desks and enjoying a proper lunch. I love that! How many times have I sat in front of a computer trying not to drop chunks of feta cheese or blobs of salad dressing all over myself and my keyboard?? No more! It’s up and out for me at lunchtime.


  12. I think organisations should be more proactive in looking after the wellbeing of them employees, which includes ensuring they take breaks and get away from the desk from time to time. I suspect most organisations in Australia just turn a blind eye to it (eating at the desk, etc). They should proactively discourage it and do something about it.


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