“People eat at their desk!” says snack company

As anyone who has ever worked in an office (ie anyone) will know, people sometimes eat at work, rather than eat in their own time. This, however, is actually not something we’ve all known and come to terms with long ago, but in fact a startling revelation featured recently in the Telegraph:

One in three eat lunch al desko, study finds

More than one in three office workers eat lunch at their desk because of pressure from their employers, according to a study.

In a national survey, 10 per cent claimed their employer expected them to be in the office at all times – even for meals.

A third of the 2,000 workers polled said they now eat one meal at their desk a day while one in 30 claimed that their job would be at risk if they didn’t eat lunch in front of their computer.

Source: The Telegraph, 15 January 2013

The trappings of PR are all too clear to see with this story: the commonsensical nature of the findings, the invention of a media-friendly buzzterm, the geographic data-mining to show which areas are worst affected (hint: in any given list, somewhere has to be last). 

As for the numbers involved, I wonder if anybody – including the journalists who paste these stories into the press – ever actually read them. The headlines generally have little to do with the balance of the numbers, for one thing. Which is to say, what we’ve found with this article, if the numbers are an accurate reflection of real life (they’re no, by the way), is that two thirds of people never eat breakfast or lunch at their desk.

Look out for how often the headlines for PR survey stories never reflect the majority of any given statistic – it’s only ever a hook to get an media-friendly hook into a visible and prominent place.

Returning to the ‘al desko’ story, who funded it? Well, to get there, we need to examine the secondary angle to the article, skipping over the lunch-based headlines:

But it is not only lunchtime sandwiches which are being consumed in the workplace – colleagues are increasingly eating breakfast at work with a quarter of employees now having the first meal of the day during work hours.

Not all workers are complaining about missing out on a home cooked breakfast. Sixty per cent of workplace breakfasters said eating at their desk gave them more time in bed in the morning, while one in 10 said it effectively meant they started work later.

Cereal and porridge were the most popular workplace breakfast choices but, despite the change of setting, the hearty breakfast has not been lost with one in 20 polled claiming to occasionally manage to eat a fry-up at their desk.

We’ve now switched from looking at how awful it is that the poor workforce of our nation is consigned to their desks even to eat, to now celebrating the wise old foxes who breakfast at their desk to maximise their time in bed. Clearly, it seems, that lunch ought not to be eaten at work, but a breakfast in the office is a breakfast of champions. Which brings us neatly to:

Alpro, who carried out the survey, said: “This study shows that time-pressed workers now often have no choice but to eat many of their meals at their desk.”

That would be Alpro, the breakfast yoghurt manufacturers who are currently encouraging people to tweet in photos of their ‘deskfest’ office-based-breakfasts, as part of their ‘eat your breakfast at work’ PR campaign.

So, a breakfast yoghurt company running a promotion aiming to get people to eat breakfast at work sponsors a survey telling people eating breakfast at work is a cool and wise thing to do, and the Telegraph publish the results as if this were really news? They must by completely out to lunch…