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Daily desktop dining at the office requires consideration

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Mark Brewer
Desktop dining illustration by Mark Brewer

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Monday, April 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Tim Edwards admits that he often eats lunch at his desk, and he's careful. But as a computer professional who does many repair jobs involving spilled-on keyboards, he doesn't recommend the practice.

It's not just crumbs or other food messes that get under the keys of a keyboard. It's the drinks that cause the most damage.

“We are near a college, so we see the occasional rum and Coke or mixed-drink spill,” says Edwards, business manager of Moon-based The Computer Guys, which sells and repairs computers. “Any kind of liquid ... makes it even worse because it gets sticky. The cleanup process is awful.”

Still, eating at your desk is an irresistible and common temptation, he says.

“We try to multitask,” Edwards says. “A lot of people are just using their computer all the time. A lot of times, we'll take a computer apart and crumbs start falling out. We've cleaned up our fair share of people's leftovers.”

A Gallup Poll revealed that two-thirds of American workers eat at their desks more than once a week.

Lisa Orndorff — manager of employee relations and engagement at the Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management — says eating at one's desk is very common. She does it, too, as do many of her co-workers. But, workers should exercise some basic courtesies and sense so they don't make messes and disturb colleagues, Orndorff says. Food aroma and other factors could annoy colleagues.

“In general, we have a lot of people who just stay at their desk and eat, but there are plenty of other food places around the building they can go,” Orndorff says.

Some like to use their lunch hours to run errands or exercise, so they eat at other times while working, Orndorff says. And for others, they are so busy and absorbed in their work that it's easier to eat at their desks than go out, or even go to a downstairs cafeteria. Plus, bringing lunch from home saves a lot of money.

People should be wary of eating anything with a strong aroma. Even a seemingly universal pleaser like freshly popped popcorn can be unpleasant when an extra second or two in the microwave sends out a cloud of burnt-popcorn smoke. People should be aware of meals with fish and some vegetables like broccoli or sauerkraut, which can have pungent smells.

“There are little things that can irritate your co-workers,” Orndorff says.

Workers who eat at their desks can use the time to do something leisurely and nonwork related, like online shopping or reading for pleasure, Orndorff says. But separating that from work can be difficult, especially if colleagues are trying to talk business to someone in lunch mode.

“That might be the one time where they can tune everything out,” she says. “It's easier to just stay at the desk rather than go to a loud lunchroom.”

However, if co-workers tend to go out to eat, or gather in lunchrooms, employees could miss out on connections if they always eat at their desk instead. And it's physically healthy to get up and move around.

“If you want to be social, talk to your co-workers,” Orndorff says. “You probably do want to go to a lunchroom or someplace where people aren't working.”

The general principle for desktop dining is common courtesy, she says. Choose foods wisely, clean up after yourself — and clean your keyboard and phone every now and then, she says.

For many working people, there's no choice: They are not allowed to eat or drink at their desks, often because of the type of business. For instance, people who work in a medical environment don't want to get germs.

Lisa Bakowski, 48, of Wexford must go out or to the break room to eat because she works in a medical lab.

“It's because we work with blood,” says Bakowski, as she enjoys a banana, soup and Hershey Kisses in the break room during lunch.

But it sure would be nice to have the option of drinking coffee at her desk, she says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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