The office breakfast's unstoppable ascendancy

Man eating breakfast Have boundaries between office and home broken down completely?

Have you ever eaten breakfast at your desk? It's time to reconsider such behaviour, says commentator on office and workplace life, Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times.

There is a new man in the office who sits at a desk just behind mine. Most mornings he's in early, as am I, and as I leaf through the newspapers, I hear a rustling sound and the ring of metal on china followed by a slurp-munch-slurp noise.

I look around and see that he has pushed his keyboard aside and at his elbow is a box of Fruit 'n Fibre cereal. Presently, he gets up, takes the bowl to the sink, washes it and returns to his desk.

It makes no sense to eat cereal at work. It takes about 90 seconds to prepare and eat a bowl of Bran Flakes at home. The fridge is to hand, as is the dishwasher. But over the past decade there has been a steady onward march of objects, activities and emotions from hearth to cubicle, so there is now almost nothing left that belongs entirely at home.

People these days turn up in sweat pants, take a shower, clean their teeth and apply make-up when they get to work. Offices double as wardrobes and laundry rooms with damp towels, spare clothes and shoes strewn carelessly around the place. Grooming complete, workers present themselves at their desks, where they are greeted by stuffed toys, rugs, bunches of flowers and, of course, photographs of children and pets.

Differences in what we wear and how we behave at home and work have been steadily eroded. We may still be marginally smarter and more polite in the office, but it's a matter of degree. Crying and shouting are both deemed perfectly acceptable, as are jeans and flip-flops.

It is even OK to sleep on the job - it's called a power nap, and a few offices have installed beds or sleep pods to make it easier for us.

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Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll are part of office life, too. The first and the second are officially forbidden, but still practised when no-one is looking. Rock'n'roll can now be done quite openly at work, thanks to the iPod. We also watch television at our desks, keep up with who did what last night on Facebook, do our shopping online and get the parcels conveniently delivered to our desks by the office post boy.

So is there nothing left that we do at home but not at work? There is still a taboo on nudity in the office, and I don't think I've seen anyone at a desk wearing a pair of flannel pyjamas.

Neither have I caught them knitting or daubing oil paints on to an easel, though that may be partly because hardly anyone does such things at home anymore either.

There is only one thing that people choose to do at home but not at work: to give birth, though this can't be far off. One colleague recently sent me an e-mail about a work matter as she was being wheeled into the delivery room, so to have the baby in a birthing pool on the floor at the office would seem the logical next step.

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There is one final activity that we do less and less of in the office - work.

But this makes perfect sense: there is no point in working there when we can do it so conveniently at home instead.

Below is a selection of your comments

It's called presenteeism. It looks better if you spend more time at work. Start early and finish late. I think workers are judged on how long they are at work, excluding sick days, and child care. And not so much on what they do when they are there.

Mick Men, Birkenhead

Sorry, one more thing to scratch of the remaining at home-only list; this coming Friday our office is having a Pyjama Party to celebrate the company's third birthday.

Andy, Manchester

I do knit at work in my lunch break. Some people read books, others surf the web; I knit, like I do at home.

Helen, Scotland

I am guilty of eating my cereal at work but I hasten to add, I eat it quietly. Unfortunately, due to the re-location of my workplace I leave my house early to avoid the build up of traffic and therefore arrive at my desk at least half an hour before my contracted start time - so I make a cup of tea for myself and a colleague & have my breakfast. To me it is no different than eating lunch at my desk - which ALL my colleagues do and none of us have a problem with it.

Leigh, Woking, Surrey

Just as I sit down at my desk with a bowl of fruit and fibre, I come across this article. The irony.

Desk-Faster, London

Is it bad manners to eat your breakfast in the office? Only if it's cereal. That's the main "crunch crunch slurp slurp" culprit. I had a fry-up yesterday morning... no crunch, no slurp.

Shaunette Babb, via Facebook

Not if you've got your own office! If not, bananas or yogurt work, no crunch, no slurp.

Deborah Rossi , via Facebook

It is rude and unhygienic for people to eat breakfast at their desk, as well as most hot foods. I think it's inconsiderate to stink an office out with a curry or fish dish, and although cereal isn't as offensive, it's the principle I object to. It's wrong. People should eat their breakfast at home, then come to work.

Steve, Wales

In these days of increasingly long commute times, it's hardly surprising more people choose to take 10 minutes to eat breakfast at work than gobble it down in 90 seconds at home, at a stupidly early hour.

Jill Ross, Leeds, UK

Breakfast is quite a common sight where I work, as is lunch at your desk whilst surfing the net. One person has done their entire Christmas shopping online during a single lunch break whilst eating their sandwiches. Employers and employees have a responsibility to ensure that staff have at least a 20 minute break away from screens, machinery et al as this can lead to mistakes and accidents in the workplace through tiredness.

Maurice, Bury, UK

There are some good reasons to eat breakfast at work. I leave home at 7.10, reaching my desk at 8.30. I then eat my cereal so it keeps me going until lunchtime. If I ate before I left home, I'd be tempted by the chocolate dispenser by mid-morning.

Pat, Surrey

A girl in our office claims to start work at 8am, then spends the next half an hour eating her breakfast and chatting to colleagues. This extra half an hour then gets taken as flexi time.

Jane, Wiltshire

Eat it on your own time.

Ooldfrat, via Twitter

I don't see how this is an issue. My drive to work takes an hour, if I eat at home before I leave I'm hungry again by the time I get to work. I can't apologise for having an appetite. The only time I can see this being a problem is if someone doesn't clean up after themselves. In which case you have the right to complain to them.

Lisa, MD, USA

I hate any sort of meal in the office. Why do people do it? How much more do people expect to achieve if they have any meal in an office? Surely 10 minutes eating a sandwich in a courtyard or a bench is so much nicer than crumbing up your workspace. Ultimately, it is the slurp of the breakfast cereal which I really detest in an office environment more than anything. It's almost unhygienic.

Tom Nicolson, London, UK

I leave my house at 6am. I can't eat that early. I have tried, but I. Just. Can't. I get to work at 7am and go to the gym. I get to the office at 8am, and place my towel on the back of my chair because there are no drying facilities elsewhere. I drink my coffee and eat my breakfast at my desk. Sometimes I even eat my breakfast in my first meeting (shock horror). I am a senior manager. I encourage my team to take care of themselves too by exercising and eating when they're hungry.

Becka, Manchester, UK

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