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I live near my employer's office. All I need to do to reach home is walk for five minutes.

To go straight to the point, I prefer having lunch at home. It costs me way less money than going to restaurants; I can eat healthy, prepared food; and I'm able to attend to my home.

My colleagues take it badly when I don't have lunch with them. My team leader actually sees this behavior as one of a person who's not well integrated into the team. She even started making unnecessary remarks.

I currently go home during lunch time about once or twice every two weeks. Though infrequent, this causes issues.

How can I deal with this situation? How can I express my needs correctly?

  • 34
    See How can I politely decline a team lunch? – Brandin Mar 29 '17 at 12:44
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    To clarify, you only go home for lunch about once a week but even that is attracting comments from your manager? – Lilienthal Mar 29 '17 at 14:53
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    does the team leader also pressure people to talk shop during 'team lunches'? Either way, it sounds like they have boundary issues. – CCJ Mar 31 '17 at 20:57
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    Are you on the clock getting paid during this lunch time? – candied_orange Apr 1 '17 at 14:13
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    @RolenKoh it means it makes a difference if the op was getting paid. – candied_orange Apr 3 '17 at 8:10

11 Answers 11

189

Let's look at this from a different angle. The laws of the land would classify this time away from your desk as not only lunch, but a lunch BREAK. And a break, by definition, means a separation of joined parts. During your break, this means that you, and only you, direct what you do and you have no obligation to justify what that is.

Your team leader has some issues in respecting that boundary. I'm going to guess that this probably shows up in other ways during your work day. Continue to honor this boundary of yours, because it is a healthy one. Reinforce it by way of reading about some strategies online by which you can better assert yourself and be comfortable with saying no.

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    while I agree, I don't think this answer emphasize enough on how to reinforce the boundary without being served remarks and looks – njzk2 Mar 29 '17 at 19:37
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    @njzk2 Hence my referral to go do a Google search on that subject. Nothing I can post here is guaranteed here to fit the OP's tastes, so it's easier to save myself that headache and direct to more detailed sources which are a few clicks away. – Xavier J Mar 29 '17 at 19:55
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    adding some perspective from the company's side may make this answer more full. company cultural fit is a pretty big deal, and this may be one symptom of an overall larger problem - not that either side is 'wrong', and normally I would agree that an employee needs to be able to do their own thing for a break. – ebernard Mar 29 '17 at 20:35
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    "Company culture" is great, during company time. – Xavier J Mar 29 '17 at 20:36
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    @njzk2 The answers that worked for me were in two of Dr. Wayne W. Dyer's early books Pulling Your Own Strings and Your Erroneous Zones. Check them out from your local library. I cannot begin to tell you how his wisdom helped me to easily deal with situations like yours. I eventually bought my own copies, and they are some of the most highly-prized books in my personal library. I even have extra copies that I loan. – Mike Waters Mar 29 '17 at 21:19
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How can I deal with such situation ?

In general there isn't anything wrong with what you are doing. I also eat lunch at my desk or at home for health and cost reasons. Do not lie about your reasoning.

Having said that, you need to engage in the team lunch on occasion to help you with being perceived as a team player. Try going with them once every two weeks if your budget allows. If not go once a month.

How can I express my needs correctly?

If asked about the frequency, only once or twice a month, just tell the truth. Also, express the fact that you like to eat healthy food that you prepare so you know what goes in the food you eat.

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    I would be interested to know why having lunch with the team would make them perceive you as a team player. Isn't working in the team, helping other members and being a nice, approachable person enough? I guess a lot depends on the team and the office culture. – camden_kid Mar 29 '17 at 13:49
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    @camden_kid Teams do activities, such as lunch, to build comradery. You spend as much time or more than you do with those in your personal life. If you are the only one not participating.... – Mister Positive Mar 29 '17 at 13:52
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    No ^ - part of your job of working in a team is to WORK well in a team. Personal time and space is PERSONAL and how one decides to spend that time should have no bearing on work. Unfortunately, this is rarely a shared opinion. One can be a great team member and have no interest in hanging out with co-workers – NKCampbell Mar 29 '17 at 16:17
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    If it is during personal time then yes it would count as 'hanging out'. If the company is hosting and paying for the lunch as an official team gathering then that is different and would fall under the bounds of work. Otherwise, let the OP eat in peace for goodness sake – NKCampbell Mar 29 '17 at 16:19
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    @MisterPositive, I don't consider being coerced to do something I don't want to a minor compromise. How about we just let people be themselves? I think the OP should simply tell them the truth. They don't want to go because they enjoy going home for a nice home prepared meal. – CramerTV Mar 29 '17 at 20:35
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How can I deal with such situation? How can I express my needs correctly?

I think the best thing to do here is to be honest with your team. Just tell them the way you told us.

You want to eat healthily and have some personal tasks to take care of. There’s nothing wrong with this. Just try to go once a week or once every 2–3 weeks to the restaurant with them — it’ll make them feel you’re part of the team, and are not just trying to avoid them when you go eat at home.

24

How can I deal with such situation ? How can I express my needs correctly ?

Just go home and eat alone when you choose, and invite others when you choose. When you wish to do so, accompany others to their lunch location of choice. It's not a big deal either way.

If your team leader comments, just reply "I've found that using my lunch time at home works best for me" and leave it at that.

When you are at work, try to be as "integrated" and engaged as you can.

There's really nothing to "deal with" here. Just do what you want.

11

There is an important piece of career advise which you hear over and over again: Never eat alone!

Eating lunch together is an important opportunity to network and bond together. Not only do you miss out on forming personal connections with your coworkers, you will also miss out on a lot of unofficial but important information which tends to get exchanged at such occasions.

If you prefer to prepare your meals on your own, you might still bring your own lunch from home and eat it together with the others.

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    A boss told me: Out of sight, out of mind. If there is two employees with the same skill level, on promotion time, the one eating with the team will be choosed and on lay off time, the guy eating alone will be the first to be out. This answer explain it. – Sebastien DErrico Mar 29 '17 at 15:48
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    I dont fully agree. Lunch break is for you to do with as you wish and the only reason companies encourage you to eat lunch with other workers is so that you discuss work (effectively working) on your own time. Maybe that works for some people, but I think having a break away from thinking about work is important. Theres plenty of time to discuss work when i'm actually paid to do so. – ayrton clark Mar 29 '17 at 15:55
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    Yeah, I suppose, if you want a career. Some people work to live, rather than living to work. – TRiG Mar 29 '17 at 16:03
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    It's worth noting that OP mentions eating at restaurants in the question, where it could be fairly awkward, if not disallowed, to bring your own food. One might also argue that you're not answering the question by shrugging off OP's concerns in favour of simply telling them "it's good for your career". – Dukeling Mar 29 '17 at 16:57
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    Honestly, I've never heard this advice before. – Herb Wolfe Mar 29 '17 at 18:24
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I go home for lunch pretty much every day for several years (and with different employers). Now we make sure we look for a house close enough to work so that I can come home for lunch. Initially I faced some of the issues you mentioned but as my understanding with team grew, this is not an issue at all. I do three things which usually help me in keeping my appearance as a "team player"

  1. I have lunch at least once a week in office with my team. That way I am tuned into office gossips and internal jokes.
  2. We do not have lot of office paid team lunches but whenever there is, I try to make it those events. These external events are usually important (not critical though) to attend (unless you have a medical reason not to do so).
  3. I am with the team-members during coffee tea or quick snack breaks.

Not sure if your situation allows you to be this flexible but the bottom line is you have every right to go home for lunch and you should but just maintain a balance and keep making appearance for team lunch events as well.

6

This may be a difficult question to answer, simply because every company culture is unique. On top of that you have cultural norms for the region/state/country, and then even more detailed norms within individual departments or teams.

Back when I had the opportunity to work somewhere a few minutes from home in Southeast Texas, I often went home for my lunch break - far more often than you do (2-3 times a week). The company culture there encouraged a healthy balance between work & personal lives, however, and never had a problem with this behavior as long as I was back at my desk when expected. It also helped that many other employees lived nearby and did the same thing. This was at a company of roughly 1200 or so employees, with at least half of them located where I was.

Now... all that said, if your manager is making comments about it, then it's obviously an issue or concern for him/her. IF you want a healthy career from that job, you need to try to understand WHY it's an issue. If it's really just a matter of not being "a team player", then you should make an effort to attend lunch with the team occasionally. Maybe if the issue is your time away from the office, then a compromise would be to bring lunch from home as others have mentioned.

I do agree with other commenters that a lunch break is YOUR time, not the company's, but realistically the requirements of your job are determined by your supervisor and/or HR resource on an ongoing basis. Unless you're really determined to fight them on it, perhaps even in court, the practical needs of your role on the team are whatever your boss says they are.

If attending the team lunch is really that big of an issue for you, and not simply an inconvenience, then you should probably start looking for a new company culture. Otherwise, the best choice is to speak with your boss about the comments, but also just go to a team lunch once a month or however often makes your boss happier. You never know - you may even learn to like it.

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    Ummm... no, partially. Break requirements are mandated by law, so a company could not require that you not have breaks in your work day, or that you regularly use those breaks for company activities. Even "exempt" employees must be allowed a certain amount of time for breaks if they work x amount of hours in a day. – PoloHoleSet Mar 30 '17 at 16:49
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    @PoloHoleSet - not disagreeing, but when it comes down to it, your job is to do whatever your boss asks, within reason. If your company tries to do something illegal - like make you work during your break - that's something YOU have to fight them over. You can report it to HR, but again, that constitutes "fighting" your boss. My point in the answer is that the OP can either go to the mat on this thing, or occasionally take the team lunch to make the boss happy. Most people would opt for the latter choice. – Omegacron Mar 30 '17 at 16:53
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    I have a really, really hard time with the idea that workers have to be such a slave to their jobs that they have to sacrifice their personal lives to appease unprofessional and unreasonable demands from a higher-up. There's no reason for the team leader to care or stick his/her nose into OP's lunch habits. I'd certainly politely request the boss allow lunch decisions to be made without comment or pressure, before escalating it. – PoloHoleSet Mar 30 '17 at 16:56
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    @PoloHoleSet - like I said, not disagreeing with that. That IS indeed the way things should be. But it's not the way things always work. At any rate, the debate is irrelevant to the OP's question. He/she has three choices - do what the boss says, initiate conflict with the boss, or find a new job. When you reach the point of arguing over what's legal and what's not, you've already started the second option and are at conflict with the boss. – Omegacron Mar 30 '17 at 17:31
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    FYI in the USA, breaks are not mandated at the federal level. "The FLSA does not require breaks or meal periods be given to workers. Some states may have requirements for breaks or meal periods. If you work in a state which does not require breaks or meal periods, these benefits are a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee's representative)." (dol.gov/whd/flsa/faq.htm) State laws could come into play but I don't think OP posted his state. – Graham Mar 31 '17 at 17:01
4

Be sure to invite coworkers to your house for lunch on a regular basis. In doing so, and collecting rejections, your rejections of going to expensive restaurants don't seem disproportionate.

You would be surprised how effective this is, and you might be surprised to find uncommonly meaningful relationships with co-workers who appreciate your perspective in contrast to the few who seem to deride it.

1

If they are paying for your lunch, you should generally accept their invitation.

If it is your first lunch with the team, you may accept it once. Also when moving between teams and similar. All these are courtesy moves, make you look good.

In all other cases how you spend lunch is totally up to you. A common misconception is that lunch is for eating (another one is that eating is for talking btw).

You may prefer to meditate at home instead of eating food (maybe you only eat once a day, for religious or other reasons). Some people walk in the park, do their shopping, work out etc during lunch break, and usually everyone is okay with that.

If your team sees a problem in how you spend your lunch time, maybe it's time to join another. But first - talk to them and try to understand whether your vision of the situation is correct. Do they consistently express disagreement in various ways? Or was it just one off example / bad mood, then everyone forgot about it, and you still carry the pain.

0

Ask the manager to help you understand why eating lunch every day with the team is important. Then ask if there is any amount of frequency you could eat at home. Would once a month present a problem? Are there other things you could do that would accomplish the same thing as attending lunch with coworkers?

Management often over-thinks things some employees do in an attempt to prevent foreseeable problems. Other team members getting jealous or wanting the same privilege is a common reason. Company's aren't a democracy, but it would be nice if a manager had more communication with the team to better understand what will put them off. Maybe your getting to go home for lunch just bothers the others for who knows what reason.

Until you get more information, I don't see anyone being able to help you very much.

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Both you and your colleagues have very good reasons and I would like to tell you to go home, but your career is on the line.

If your colleagues eat in the company (at the desk or somewhere else) you could simply take food from home. This way you wouldn't have all the advantages of lunching at home and would make your friends happy.

But if they all eat out in restaurants or similar places, you could go with them up to two or three times a week and refuse the other days alleging financial reasons. You may spend some more money (but still save some), but won't displease your colleagues and your boss so much, consequently lessening the risk of loosing your job.

And, of course, you can (in this case you must) go out with them after the work hours. You may call them out to a place you know or participate when they organize themselves to go out. This are the moments in which you will integrate and even create bounds with your team.

After all, lunching and going out with them it's not only about having fun, it's also an investment in you and your career.

  • @JoeStrazzere: Strange as it might sound, and unfair though it is, future advancement may be affected if the manager really has the level of boundary issues indicated. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 30 '17 at 14:38
  • @JoeStrazzere: The statement could certainly use paring down a little. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 1 '17 at 23:52

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