Forgive me for being a spoilsport, but I personally find one of the most exhausting and dreary customs of the typical working adulthood life in Singapore is our very exclusive local lunch hour culture. For those of you who don’t already realise, the Singaporean office lunch culture appears to be influenced by some sort of pressure that results in coherent and sensible adults turning into peer-abiding teenagers.
The Singaporean Office Lunch Culture
Let me paint you an all too familiar scenario — as the implicit hour of socialising looms over the office atmosphere anytime between noon and 2 PM, the most celebrated and self-appointed leader of the Glorious Office Lunch Union poses a seemingly ordinary and innocent question that usually takes form in a single, solitary word: “Lunch?”.
Now, for the more oblivious ones, this may seem as a mere formality or professional gesture. But for those who have been in the game long enough, you can’t help but ponder to yourself about the origins of this unspoken rule that the team should always leave for lunch together. This long-time practice also makes the blatant assumption that we should want to enjoy our smoked salmon frittata with our co-workers in a social setting and that we can be rightfully labelled as the Anti-Social Club if we decide to stay put at our desks come lunchtime or feel like having our meal alone in isolation.
Thus, the rejection of lunch invites come with its very own risk caution. Being courageous enough to unwaveringly turn down group lunches and fly solo for your deserved hour of tranquillity is one thing, but having to muster the mental strength to weather through the storms of mockery and cynical retorts from the more sociable and outgoing colleagues, such as ”bo jio”, is another. And if you are adamant enough to stick to this routine for the longest time running, you would then be placed higher up the pedestal and carve your name into the legendary rankings of the social pariahs, and subsequently banished for the Glorious Office Lunch Union.
Seeing The Unseeable
However, as the societal lunch rules of any office dictates, the only worse thing that can happen apart from declining a lunch invite is not receiving any in the first place at all. To avoid getting themselves stranded in this undesirable pickle, majority of the rational adults in dress shirts and pointy formal shoes succumb to the pressure and the mass exodus of the Glorious Office Lunch Union from their posh offices flock to the nearest food courts and nearby restaurants, all geared and psyched up to “chope’ their tables with tissue packets and random name cards that they manage to dig out from their wallets and purses.
Irrespective of which Glorious Office Lunch Union we might end up with, lunch itself is always likely to be an hour’s worth of unproductive chatter and self-indulgence that is neatly packaged as essential employee bonding. Over time, the average Singaporean worker, especially the younger snowflake generation, swiftly embraces this particular local office lunch culture as a piece of standard carry-on luggage that come with working life. What many of us fail to realise is how this singular and seemingly harmless lunch experience can land us on two different ends of a spectrum by making us feel accepted and excluded, not to mention unproductive, all at once.
The Effects Of The Inescapable Lunch Culture
While Singapore takes 13th position in a global study determining peak productivity in human capital, internal reports from last year indicate that the actual status of the Singaporean productivity is still “work in progress”. And some experts from a local research centre claim that lunch hour can be one of the many factors that can affect your productivity for the day.
To start off, it is imperative to comprehend that lunch hour is not simply an hour of your day as its after-effects can linger around and persist for the entire day. Right about noon, you begin with the mental switch from work to lunch mode where you are forced to abruptly adopt different headspaces and utilise a different set of cognitive functions. From having a focused mind on project management and problem-solving to small talk and casual chit chat over lunch, this transition often causes even the best of us to lose our concentration on the stuff we were working on prior to lunch.
Additionally, the most gruesome part of the day is that unavoidable battle with the post-lunch syndrome, otherwise known as food coma. Not only do you spend more time socialising away from our work station and let slip that it is a work day, but you are also more than likely to experience the eventual crash from all the carb-heavy and sugary indulgence that you have had earlier, making the transition back to work an excruciatingly painful process.
As a result, you may need an additional hour of buffer time just to get back in your when you could have utilised that hour doing something more productive. Make no mistake, on bad days, this effect tends to linger much longer and some of us can remain as distracted as ever throughout the day.
How To Manoeuvre The Office Lunch Culture
To be honest, the reason why numerous modern-day productivity hacks do not seem to work permanently for some of us is that it targets and addresses the wrong areas of concern. In this scenario, it is clear that the problem lies in our deluded obligation to mingle with our colleagues during lunch over idle and superfluous chatter when we could be spending that particular hour and the subsequent buffer time to productively complete some tasks. For now, if you are not already resistant to the post-lunch productivity nose-dive, you may want to consider growing a pair of nuts big enough to opt yourself out of the office lunch culture for at least a couple of days in a week.
Personally, after I left my first job fresh off the university, I have learned how to avoid the potential productivity slump by growing a backbone, adopted selective listening and flavourless lunch company from my break time. Having said that, I suppose I am also blessed to end up with the current bunch colleagues with pretty faces who don’t really give two hoots about the customary Singaporean office lunch culture. Everyone seems to understand that the tasks at hand and our mood for that day take precedence over something as trivial as the daily communal lunch session. No one has to explain themselves if they choose to sit lunch out and this has resulted in an increase in work productivity for some of us, including myself, for an uninterrupted stretch.
And if I do happen head out to lunch together with my team, at least I know very well for myself that I am the one who voluntarily, and sometimes desperately, want a break from the office desk before coming back from lunch refreshed, energised, unburdened and raring to pick up exactly where I left off in the shortest amount of time possible.