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Eating on the Job

Sharing Meals with Co-Workers can Increase Performance

Sharing Meals with Co-Workers can Increase Performance

Firefighters who ate and cooked together had higher performance 

Dining together was also associated with increased cooperation and better work-group performance

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Kevin M. Kniffin, Brian Wansink, Carol M. Devine & Jeffery Sobal (2015). Eating Together at the Firehouse: How Workplace Commensality Relates to the Performance of Firefighters. Human Performance, 28(4), 281-306, doi: 10.1080/08959285.2015.1021049

Increasing cooperation among co-workers can be an effective means of improving workplace performance. While formally coordinated workplace activities can be used to promote cooperation, so can a simple, informal meal. A recent Cornell University study investigated how shared meals among firefighters can serve as a cooperative activity by fostering greater collaboration and stronger social ties.

The researchers interviewed and surveyed firefighters in several firehouses to gather information about shared meals, cooperation among individuals, and overall group performance. Firefighters who ate and cooked meals together were more likely to have higher group performance than those who did not. The act of eating meals together was also associated with increased cooperation, which was also associated with better work-group performance. Talking with co-workers during meals may be the underlying reason for why eating together increases cooperative behavior, as eating and talking are often intertwined during meals and strengthen relationships.

The study findings illustrate that providing a space where employees can share meals in the workplace may be a beneficial investment. “Employers should consider introducing spaces for employee mealtime in order to improve cooperation and performance among workers,” suggests lead author Kevin Kniffin, PhD, of Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics. The study, published in Human Performance, is coauthored by Brian Wansink, PhD, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Carol M. Devine, PhD, and Jeffery Sobal, PhD, professors in Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology.