Staff Asked By Boss to Stop Eating Hot Breakfast at Work, and People Agree

An office manager was backed by the internet after a staff member took their dilemma online, having been told to stop heating her breakfasts at work.

The office worker took to popular site Mumsnet to ask if they were being "unreasonable," for being against the decision.

The worker explained that she regularly doesn't have the time to eat before work and so chooses to eat her breakfast in the office, "sometimes something cold, sometimes something that needs a minute or two in the staff microwave," including eggs and beans.

"I'm fairly new to this job but in the past two months that others have observed me doing this, including my line manager, no-one has ever raised it as an issue," they explained.

"I work full time, 9-5, computer facing all day, work that requires a lot of concentration. I understand the importance of taking regular breaks to get away from the screen but don't take the mickey with this."

They added that it takes around the same time it would take her to make a mug of tea anyway.

"All of a sudden my line manager took me aside and said "it had been noticed" that I was heating up my breakfast and that I was no longer to do this as it was in work time, that the microwave and toaster were only for lunch breaks, unless I decided to split my break over both," they wrote.

"This seems ridiculous to me as it takes max 5 minutes and I then bring it back to eat at my desk whilst working. I have seen colleagues gone for much much longer than this if they get into social conversation with colleagues."

Studies have shown that breaks during work are beneficial for productivity, though often halfway through rather than at the very start. A 2011 University of Illinois study found that the human brain's attentional resources plummet after a long time spent focusing on a task.

"When faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task," lead researcher professor Alejandro Lleras told Fast Company.

Despite the established benefits of breaks, it was the idea of the staff member wasting time that mainly had other users agreeing with her manager.

"I think a full hot breakfast is pushing it, you may take it back to your desk but presumably you aren't fully working while eating it with a knife and fork?" commented one user.

"I used to have a colleague who did this and it pissed me off to no end. While she was stirring up her porridge and blowing it to cool it down, she couldn't properly perform tasks. She could only type with one hand, and often couldn't answer the phone as she was chewing. It would take her longer to do a simple email or input some data while she was eating than it would normally, and while this was only for 10-15 minutes per day, it was every day and very annoying," noted another.

Taking breaks can be a sensitive topic for many workers, who claim to fear being seen as less hardworking by doing so.

According to one study by Tork, nearly 20 percent of North American workers worry their bosses will no longer think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, and 13 percent worry their colleagues will view them similarly.

Woman eating at desk
Stock image of a woman eating at her desk. Getty Images

"You may think it's only a couple of mins, but by the time you go to the kitchen get your food out the fridge, heat it up, put on a plate, eat it at your desk (and you won't actually be working while eating something like that) then clearing up your dishes, id bet you are essentially having an extra 15 min paid break," wrote one user.

Others were left far more understanding to the poster's viewpoint, and agreed that a few minutes to heat breakfast is far from a big deal.

"I'm stubborn, and it annoys me when a workplace doesn't treat people like adults. So I would probably sweetly say 'Ok that's fine, I'll take the five minutes out of my lunch hour and just have a 55-minute lunch break."

"Really, if you're not taking the piss I don't see why it would be a problem. I imagine smokers take up much longer out of their day to have smoke breaks," commented an individual.

Overwhelmingly however, many felt there was likely a whole other, undiscussed reason the manager didn't want breakfast heated in the office—the smell.

"I think you'll find the underlying issue is with smell: most people don't want to be around a microwaved eggs and beans smell. Cold breakfasts generally don't smell and therefore are more acceptable," pointed out one person.

Another explained that, "hot food in offices is often unpopular because of smells. Eating that sort of stuff in front of your computer also risks spills. I don't think they have to provide a microwave at all if they don't want to."