BHP got roasted by the press recently for a draconian policy that stipulates what staff can and can’t eat at their desks at its new West Australian headquarters. Soup is off the desk-scoff menu, as is fruit, chocolate, nuts and “other nibble food”. However, staff have the corporate sign-off to consume a “sensible amount of lollies” at their station. Bring on the Jelly Babies, that’s what i say.
It’s not that staff can’t eat on the job. But they can only eat certain things, in certain places. Employees must stick to designated hot and cold eating areas to keep on the right side of the BHP food police. Woe betide anyone found slobbering soup or scattering crumbage across those whiz-bang new keyboards.
BHP management believe that designated eating areas will promote well-being and encourage their minions to interact.
“It also helps us maintain a clean and comfortable workplace and makes sure that sounds or smells in the open-plan environment don’t distract others, particularly strong odors from heated foods,” according to a BHP document that explained the policy to staff.
A BHP spokeswoman said the company’s clear-desk policy – which also includes restrictions on the size and number of photograph frames and the duration that flowers can be displayed – allowed for hot-desking (whereby multiple workers use the same workstation at different times) “with little fuss”.
About a week after BHP’s tough no-eating-at-the-desk policy made national headlines, i was slurping minestrone soup at my desk at work. It was a particularly aromatic concoction, thanks to recipe doyenne Jill Dupleix, that contained eight different veggies, plus beans, pasta and the genius addition of pesto.
I wasn’t dribbling it. But the smell was clearly penetrating my section of the news room.
“If you worked at BHP you wouldn’t be able to eat that there,” a manager quipped as he walked past.
I pondered that comment as i multi-tasked my way through dinner and a mounting work-load, and contributed to the company’s super high productivity ratio. (It must have one, after all most of my colleagues are to be found fueling up at the desk while banging out a news story most lunch times.)
This eat-at-the-desk culture certainly isn’t discouraged. I wish it was, frankly. It’s dangerous.
I quite often feel like rugby tackling the bloke behind me when he lifts the lid off his plastic container of hot food. Not because it stinks. But because it smells so good. And i often find it difficult to contain myself on the food front.
On the other hand, i recently heard a colleague being lambasted by those who shared his “pod” after he re-heated, and returned to his desk with, a salmon dish.
Many of us have bad eating habits that would be best discouraged — BHP-style — in the workplace. Personally, i hate the sound of someone hoeing into a bag of crisps right next to me. And apple eaters bring out my inner Hulk, too. All that moist crunching, sucking and slobbering is seriously unattractive in a work-mate.
Admittedly, I have my own foibles. I’m an afternoon nibbler. Sunflower seeds, pepitas, and nuts are my snack foods of choice. And they’re devilish difficult to get out of the keyboard.
I changed roles, and desks, recently. As i was cleaning my old desk i turned the keyboard upside down and gave it a good shake. Enough seeds, nuts and grains fell out to fill a bowl with fluff and muesli.
Unfortunately, my deplorable desk-snacking habit has come back to bite me. I’m currently a reluctant hot-desker. Cleaning up the detritus of someone else’s desk-bound consumption is part and parcel of my new gig. I’m seriously pissed off about it.
I’m going to wreak revenge on the workplace today, though. I’m taking in leftover Ethiopian chicken. There are 11 different spices in the spice mix.
If i eat it close enough to the boss’ office, he might banish me to the kitchen. Fingers crossed.