Should Agents Be Allowed to Eat at Their Desks?


We asked our reader panel what they thought about agents eating at their desks. Here is what they said.

Some managers think it won’t be an issue if you trust your agents to act like adults…

If it can be done without mess or upsetting the customer… Why not?

Treat your agents as adults until they prove otherwise. This approach should help you improve agent engagement.

And if eating at desks can be done without mess and without customers hearing crunching and munching in their ears, why not?

However, if it impacts the customer experience, it needs to be rescinded. Letting agents know that this is the plan in advance can ensure that they have the right attitude to it from the start.

With thanks to Sean McIver

It isn’t really a problem if agents keep their desks tidy

I think agents should be allowed to eat at their desks, so long as their workstations are kept neat and tidy.

They should just be careful not to eat when they have a client on the other end of the line. That is basic telephone etiquette.

With thanks to Nonhlanhla Nancy Nkosi

It’s fine as long as lids are kept on all liquids

We allow food at the stations, as long as it doesn’t become an issue.

Our main rule is that all liquids need to have a lid, so they are spill-proof.

With thanks to Chad Kaiser

A poll of 283 Call Centre Helper readers revealed 43% allow food and drink at their desks - May 2015

43% of Call Centre Helper readers allow food and drink at their desks – 283 poll respondents/May 2015

A blanket ban sends a subliminal message that you don’t trust your agents

When we introduce rules like this for the contact centre – that apply nowhere else in the business – we send a subliminal message to contact centre staff that they are not trusted.

Policies like this do little to enhance the general perception of contact centres or the way that agents see themselves.

The only rules should be about not talking to customers with your mouth full – not blanket bans that forbid the consumption of food.

With thanks to Christian Trotter

They trusted us to behave like adults and it wasn’t an issue

The contact centre I worked in allowed food to be eaten while agents were on the phones – they even went so far as to hand round sweets and cake on ‘Sugar Friday’.

I remember just being careful to take small bites so that I could easily swallow when a call came through. Everyone else seemed to take a similar approach and I don’t remember anyone being disciplined for chomping in the middle of a call… They trusted us to act like adults, while enjoying the odd bit of cake during a shift, and it worked.

With thanks to Megan Jones

Good health is also important

There are a lot of businesses that provide free fruit regularly.

This is encouraged to be eaten at desks as part of a healthy drive.

With thanks to Sean McIver

We allow it during lunchtime but not between calls

We allow it during lunchtime, but not between calls.

This causes no issues for us.

With thanks to Lynda Ross-Mckay

Agents can eat at their desks if they are on ‘not ready’

cereal-work-185

We allow our agents to have food at their desk, but they can only eat if they switch to ‘not ready’.

This approach has increased employee satisfaction and, to date, none of our agents have been caught talking and eating simultaneously.

With thanks to Siddharth Dixit

It depends on how tidy people are

It all depends upon how neat and tidy people are.

Some people need to eat regularly to stay energised, and so want to eat biscuits and snacks between calls.

But, for me, the priority has to be keeping the workstations neat and tidy.

With thanks to Taj Shaikh

You should allow it if you don’t provide an alternative location for eating

A company building that has no alternative location for everyone on break to each lunch should allow it – without restriction on hot or smelly foods.

However, every office should take the need for such area into account as they expand.

With thanks to Steve Moses

Over-regulation of such things causes high rates of churn

You need to treat your staff as adults.

There can be a tendency in some contact centres to over-regulate the environment. I honestly believe this is one of the reasons for the high rates of churn we see in some parts of the sector.

As long as expectations about treating workstations and customers with respect are made clear, I would suggest a pragmatic approach.

With thanks to Greg Suligowski

Crisps can be eaten but only on celebration days

On a day-to-day basis, agents should not be allowed to eat food at their desks.

neat-crisps-185

However, during festivals or reward days, some dry food items like crisps should be allowed for the feel-good factor it brings.

Before this can happen, team leaders should brief all agents about the importance of maintaining cleanliness to avoid smell and pest issues.

With thanks to Bikash Shaw

Consistent role modelling leadership takes priority over silly rules

Agents should be allowed to do what their team leaders, managers and directors do. If the management team eat at their desks, agents should be able to do the same – and vice versa.

Consistent role modelling leadership makes sense – contact-centre-specific rules don’t.

With thanks to Dougie Cameron

Create areas where agents can snack during a shift

We should create an area where agents can sit down and have a meal during their lunch hour. If space provides, this should be in an area away from the operational floor.

You could also try having refreshment or break points around the operational area, where agents can take a snack if they need to.

With the right supervision and culture, this should take of care of the needs of those who need to snack more often.

With thanks to Chris Kilowan

It’s OK for agents to eat at their desks if they are on break

When an agent is at their desk and available, I would say no. You can’t speak on the phone with a mouth full of food or drink.

If they are on break and just happen to be sitting at their desk, I would say that’s OK – as long as they are not compromising anyone else’s performance in any way.

You should manage any issues individually – don’t introduce policies for all because of the few.

With thanks to Keith Stapleton

Treat your agents like the adults that they are

Your agents are adults, so treat them like it. Contact centres seem to have forgotten this for some reason!

It’s like asking should a recruitment consultant eat at their desk?

With thanks to Paul Tarran

If munching on snacks keeps them happy… Let them do it!

Don’t treat your agents like kids. If they want to munch on snacks between calls – and it keeps them happy and motivated – then let them!

We operate a hot-desk environment. The only rule we have is: – if it’s messy, take it away from your desk. The next person doesn’t want to be picking bits of pastry out of the keyboard!

With thanks to Iain Slorach

Others think that it is messy and unnecessary…

It is a distraction which can ruin the customer experience

I do not agree with it at all!

Agents tend to get distracted when they have anything on their desks and this can impact the customer experience.

With thanks to Imran Khan

You could hear agents finishing their food when a call was passed through

When clients requested calls for quality monitoring or claims disputes, we frequently had to send calls across where you could hear the agent finishing their food when the call was delivered to them (apples/crisps) or sucking a sweet throughout the call!

This wasn’t very good for our outsourced client relationship management – and even worse for the customer on the receiving end of the call.

The smell and general mess looked bad when we had visitors

We also don’t allow food to be eaten at desks for hygiene reasons, for example sticky headsets and keyboards.

Also, it doesn’t look good to be showing visitors around the contact centre when it is constantly littered with crumbs and the smell of hot food.

coffee-spill-185

Instead, we provide a rest room with cooking facilities/fridge/vending machine, TV, iPads, comfy seating as well as tables and chairs, along with a chill-out room for those that just want to relax and read – so there really is no reason for agents to need to eat at their desks.

I also think this approach can also help to maintain a healthier working environment, if agents aren’t compelled to snack on junk food throughout the day.

With thanks to Linda Davis at AllClear Travel Insurance

Food smells and encourages ants

I would not encourage it.

The smell of some food can be very malodorous for a start, which can be off-putting for other agents.

Keeping food off the floor can also help prevent an infestation of ants.

With thanks to Michelle Reid

Chewing on the phone is unacceptable

I am a great believer in not chewing while you’re on the phone to a customer. You wouldn’t do it face to face, so why over a phone?

yogurt-mess-185

I prefer to give agents a little time off the phone to eat, as opposed to eating while live.

You have one opportunity to make the customer believe in you and your product when on the phone – and having a mouth full of chips doesn’t help!

With thanks to Mark B

It sounds so unprofessional to be sucking on a sweet mid-conversation

We allow drinks but no food.

It sounds so unprofessional when someone’s sucking on a sweet whilst talking.

With thanks to Sue Bills

Eating at your desk is unprofessional

I think it is unprofessional to eat when you should be working.

We only allow agents to eat in designated areas – away from the phones.

With thanks to Silas Chogo

Where do you stand on this issue? Are your agents allowed to eat at their desks?

Published On: 1st Jul 2015 - Last modified: 26th Sep 2017
Read more about - Call Centre Life, , ,


5 Comments
  1. Of course my advisors can eat at their desks, they are adults not naughty toddlers!
    Where have you ever seen a paper or research that suggests employees eating at work is detrimental to the customer experience? Like me I am sure you all have bigger fish to fry like broken non customer centric processes, agent behaviour, sickness, attrition issues etc, you name it.
    Call centre environments have a bad reputation because of silly rules like this.
    Respect breeds respect, manage issues by exception, not by rule just because it makes life easier.

    Danny 2 Jul at 10:23 am
  2. We have multiple international service desks and our rules are simple:
    1) absolutely no chewing while logged into the phones
    2) cold food is OK at the desk when on a break – hot food is canteen area only
    3) no problem at all with drinks

    John Hagen 2 Jul at 1:37 pm
  3. We allow snacks, drinks and so on, but not lunch. It is not a matter of trusting an agent, it’s the fact that 1) you are still working when you are at your desk. Going away to eat lunch and take a break is better for you than sitting amongst ringing phones, especially if it’s really busy 2) Food smells. Fish Wednesday just isn’t pleasant in a small workspace

    Eunice 2 Jul at 1:50 pm
  4. The running joke here is “This is the only job that you can talk on the phone and graze all day long”!

    The company provides microwave meals, fruit cups, packaged ham, chicken & tuna salad snack packs. Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate, bottles of water & microwave popcorn. We do not have issues with people making mess, everyone is cleaning at the end of every shift and trash is bagged up each shift. Everyone knows the calls are recorded and know not to eat when with a customer.

    Buddy Pickett 2 Jul at 5:23 pm
  5. My agents are NOT allowed to eat at their desks.
    We sit at our desks all day so I
    believe it does one good to take a break away from your desk

    Judy Louw 3 Jul at 5:55 am
Get the latest exciting call centre reports, specialist whitepapers, interesting case-studies and industry events straight to your inbox.