A lot of companies have made it a point to make lunchtime a more enjoyable experience for employees by offering free lunches, group luncheons, or on-site cafes. While some might see this has a frivolous perk, these companies might be onto something. A study from Cornell University found that firefighter platoons that shared meals performed better together while on the job.

“Eating together is a more intimate act than looking over an Excel spreadsheet together,” said the study’s author, Kevin Kniffin. “That intimacy spills back over into work. From an evolutionary anthropology perspective, eating together as a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue. That seems to continue in today’s workplaces.”

Kniffin and his fellow researchers spent 15 months conducting interviews and surveys in large city fire departments in more than 50 firehouses. The 395 supervisors were asked to rate their platoon’s performance in comparison to other firehouses they have worked with. They were also asked how often their current platoon eats together in their four-day workweek. The platoons that shared meals together were rated with a higher team performance. Those that did not eat together received lower performance ratings.

Through interviews, the researchers found that group meals were part of the firehouse’s dynamic and was a central activity. There also seemed to be a sense of embarrassment when firefighters were asked about their previous firehouses that did not eat together.

Sharing a meal means going beyond the call of duty, and allows team members to get to know each other on a deeper level and create a sense of camaraderie that can extend outside of work hours. For employees that are feeling especially stressed or even lonely, these shared meals can go a long way.

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