“Work intensification,” according to Macquarie University’s Yvette Blount, results from technology keeping people connected around the clock. It has caused many people to have more work than they can complete in the time allotted, and one common sacrifice is the lunch break. A 2013 study found that 3.8 million Australians don’t regularly take a proper lunch break. But while giving up the occasional lunchtime isn’t usually a problem, foregoing it regularly is bad for employees, and ultimately bad for business. Still, recruiting firm Hays found that Australians and New Zealanders often cheat themselves out of a decent lunch break, believing that skipping lunch or eating at their desks signals greater work commitment.
WHAT DO PEOPLE DO ON THEIR LUNCH BREAKS?
About half of people have lunch at their desks rather than leaving, and those who do step away from the office tend not to use their full allotted break time. This results in an average lunch break of 27 minutes, according to the Hays survey, yet most employees queried said their productivity benefits from taking a break away from the office, and that they would benefit even more if they could choose their own break times. Slogging through a heavy workload at the expense of breaks can affect work quality for the worse, whereas taking even short breaks allows people to recharge, reset and come back with more energy to devote to tasks.
GETTING AWAY BOOSTS CREATIVITY
Management professor Kimberly Elsbach of the University of California at Davis studies workplace psychology and says taking a break and getting out from behind the desk can improve creativity. Never taking breaks, conversely, reduces creativity. She tells Boston radio station WBUR, “It sort of exhausts your cognitive capacity and you’re not able to make the creative connections you can if your brain is more rested.” Changes in environment spark creativity and innovation, so staying in the same place for hours on end is detrimental to creative thinking. Getting out gives ideas a chance to percolate and makes those “Eureka!” moments more likely.
SOMETIMES COLLABORATION IS EASIER OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
It seems counterintuitive that collaboration would be easier away from the office, but that is often the case. In the office, an email might come in or the phone might ring. But when employees go to a break room, a restaurant or a park for lunch, the less task-oriented environment and lack of pressure can make collaboration easier and less stressful. New York architect Michi Yanagishita tells Time magazine that lunch “allows us to set aside time where we talk to each and other and not somebody else. It’s work too, but we can do it an environment where we’re not distracted by anything.”
A PROPER LUNCH BREAK IS HEALTHIER
Another problem with not taking lunch breaks is it makes employees more likely to snack constantly, a habit that can quickly become unhealthy. But taking time out to enjoy a meal helps people feel fuller longer,and feel less distracted once they return to their desks. Trevor Shilton of the Australia Heart Foundation tells Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that people spend too much time sitting, and that research is showing that chronic sitting down is unhealthy.
Taking a lunch break provides the perfect opportunity to get up, move around and come back later energised and refreshed. Physiotherapists echo this recommendation, saying that sitting too long causes muscles to become tighter and weaker, making people more prone to neck, back and knee pain.
TIPS FOR THE COMPANY BREAK ROOM
If your employees bring their lunches to work, they can still enjoy time away from their cubicles if you set aside a comfortable break room, something that the majority of employees say would allow them to unwind a bit and relieve stress. You can encourage healthy on-site breaks by providing healthy snacks and comfortable break room furniture that encourages socializing. It’s also good to encourage employees to disconnect from their phones whilst on breaks to maximize stress relief and recharge better.
Workers may feel dedicated or heroic when they work through lunch, but they’re doing neither themselves nor the employer any favours by never taking breaks. Make sure your workforce has the equipment they need to streamline work processes and reduce inefficiencies, and they’ll be more comfortable taking time away to have lunch, recharge and set themselves up for productive afternoons.