One of my former bosses made it a point to never eat lunch alone. For some, that sounds overwhelming. After all, we’re around people all day at work. Lunch may be your one chance for a few minutes of mental downtime. However, lunchtime is also a key networking time – either internally with current coworkers or externally with others in the industry.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend all of your money eating out. Plan your lunch in a way that maximizes your time and budget. Here are five types of office lunches to add to your routine:
These lunches tend to be more sporadic, but you should aim for at least five lunches a year with the leaders of your company. It doesn’t have to be the same leader each time. You can diversify who you ask out to lunch or you can focus on one or two leaders. The key is to make contact with the leaders within your organization, show an interest in them, and build a relationship with them. This strategy helps you see your leaders as real, normal people, and it helps them view you in the same light. You may need to be persistent with this practice. Don’t feel bad if you get rescheduled or canceled.
Networking is hard work. We all know how small the world is and the odds of working with the same people again in an industry are high. Don’t ignore the potential in these networks. Old coworkers can’t always hire you, but many times they may know someone who can. Plus, if you liked working together before, it means you like them as a person, so this isn’t like going to lunch with someone you just met at a career fair.
These coworker lunches focus away from your immediate team, and should be with people you either enjoy working with or who are in different areas in the company. Going out for lunch with someone from accounting, human resources, or contracts can help build a relationship with that coworker that can reduce any strain or stress on your interactions. Get to know them as people, and it might help you understand why they respond to your emails in a certain way. Lunches give you context about the coworker, as well as build a relationship with other coworkers that might create future opportunities.
Project Team Members
You might think that you want a break from the people that fill up your inbox and your schedule, but sometimes, you really need more time with them when you don’t talk about your client or the project the whole time. This is where you get an understanding of what your team members are working for – what drives them and what are some of their long term goals. You might be able to encourage a team member to perform better on the project when you can motivate them based on their personal goals. But the only way to understand each of your team member’s personal goals is to spend some time with them to hear what they have to say.
Of course, we all need our friends. Lunchtime provides the perfect opportunity to step away and catch up with our friends or family. We don’t always get the luxury of long periods of time with people in our personal life, so sometimes an hour of lunch together is better than nothing. Time with personal friends in the middle of the day can help relieve the mounting stress of the morning and provide a fresh perspective for the afternoon.
Eating a meal together is a relational experience, and it provides an opportunity to really know people and learn from them. Not all lunches will be amazing or convenient, but they provide you with an opportunity for personal and professional growth, as well as, psychological enrichment in the middle of your workday. Some lunches will just happen to work out with little effort from you, but most of them will require some strategy, planning, and scheduling. But don’t take the easy way out and simply work through lunch or surf Facebook while you eat. Go talk to real people about work and life while you eat.