in Higher Ed

Things No One Tells You About Work: The Politics of Lunch

I don’t care what anyone tells you, navigating the workplace is hard. Maybe if you grew up with copious amounts of folks in your life with white collar jobs, it was easier to pick up social cues and navigate the things that no one tells you about work. Maybe an addendum to that title would be “Things No One Tells You About Work and that you’d feel stupid asking about.”

In this new series, which might extend and become the new name of my podcast series, I’ll begin by exploring the various topics that have vexed me in the past or continue to vex me. You’re welcome to send me your ideas or things you were always afraid to ask about, too. Tweet me @ronbronson.

I remember my first professional, non-Air Force job was about four years after my enlistment ended. In the military, if you’re junior enlisted and not married you usually eat at the dining hall. In that way, it’s a lot like college. When you get to college, if you’re not living off campus or some kind of cooking savant (I wasn’t the former, though I got way better at it over time…) then you ate at the dining hall too. (Especially if you had hilarious friends you only saw during meals like I did.)

So the topic of what to do for lunch, never came up. So fast-forward to my first day of work and I don’t really remember if I even brought lunch that day. I’m pretty sure I was broke because it wasn’t payday and the fact that I went from college student to employed person as fast as I did surprised me.

(Especially when I was pretty upfront about being okay with not getting the job in the interview. Seriously, wait until I do a series on interviewing…I was so bad in the early days…)

I think after the first day, I tried bringing my lunch for a few days because I didn’t really have the money to spend anyway and nothing was super close. I wasn’t gluten-free, so eating out was easier but I always thought the break to leave was kind of a hassle. But none of this is really what this post is about. You’re probably smarter than me and can effectively plan your lunch hour.

Here’s where the complicated parts are.

1) Invitations: This seems easy enough, right? Go to lunch with whoever you want. Or no one, if you want. Except, in some places that can get complicated. I’ve never worked for a mega corporation, so take this with a grain of salt maybe. But the factions that can form over lunches shouldn’t be underestimated. If someone invites you and you don’t find them loathsome, you probably ought to go at least once. If it’s a teambuilding opportunity, you should go more often than that. A lunch once a week can be the difference between bonding with your coworkers and being alienated when you might need them.

2) The pressure to eat: Look, we’re all different. I like food sometimes, but I am notoriously picky. (Just ask anyone who has to sit with me at a conference…) This was even before I had legitimately health reasons for being a stickler for what I eat, but here’s the thing, it’s no one’s damn business whether you want to eat grapes or candy. People can be super judgy about food and your habits with condiments. But so long as you aren’t making a scene with the ketchup or mayo, you’re entitled to your weird fry habits as much as the next gal.

Don’t feel bullied into eating stuff you don’t want to, simply because other people are confused by what you’re bringing in. Seems simple, but it’s not.

3) There’s no such thing as a free lunch: For real. Going out to lunch everyday gets pricey. I was once a consultant for a place and worked on site for a bit. They ordered in every single day and if you didn’t order out, they’d look at you like you were an alien. Plus, it would smell really good and it was heavily frowned upon if you walked out or left during the lunch hour. Provided you don’t work in a place like that (and if you do, just get good at bringing your lunch!) you should be okay with saying no sometimes. Your coworkers aren’t going to pay your bills if you end up racking up large lunch charges at places that you might never have a hand in choosing. This seems like common sense, a sensible “Sorry guys, those lunches add up and I’m saving for my trip to Fiji” could be a really snappy comeback when you’re being razzed about your seemingly cheapskate ways.