In offices all over the country, it is not unusual to see people eating lunch at their desks and forgoing breaks in order to get more work done. From time to time, we all may be guilty of this behavior, but when it is a daily habit, studies show there are negative effects on productivity, the quality of work produced, and the engagement and overall well-being of employees. Being able to separate from work for a short period of time allows the opportunity to relax and can help to avoid “burn out”. So why are so many people still eating “al desko”?
Recently, a study conducted by the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, found that about 20% of employees are actually nervous or hesitant to take a lunch break because they believe their bosses will “think less of them”. And as it turns out, their feelings about this are correct. The study shows that 22% of bosses actually DO believe that employees who take lunch away from their work are less hardworking. This is extremely unfortunate due to the real benefits acquired from taking a lunch break. Think of a lunch break as a “system reboot” for humans. For those employees who do take regular lunch breaks, the study shows that 90% of them feel refreshed and prepared for more work after their break and 81% report they feel the desire to be a productive member of the company.
Company culture has the most impact on whether or not employees take advantage of a lunch time break. So how can businesses encourage their employees to do this? Here are a few options:
Provide a designated place: Being able to go to a stress-free space where an employee can take a few moments to relax with their meal is key. A change of scenery often allows the opportunity to clear your mind if work tasks are piling up or becoming overwhelming. It is important to communicate with an employee the importance of the break room and how it can be correctly utilized to maximize the employee happiness and minimize stress.
Break incentives: Are some people still not on board with the importance of a mid-day break? Incentives are an effective way of motivating employees. One way this can be done is to periodically provide a company sponsored lunch. Be sure to stress this is not a “working” lunch, but a designated time for people to step away from their desks and enjoy a brief meal.
Offer education on how lunch breaks increase performance: Let everyone know that taking a break is helpful to both them and the company. For example, sending out an email containing an article on how lunch breaks boost performance and mood may be a good way to get the ball rolling.
A real world example of the benefit of breaks can be seen in preschools. The preschool staff faces constant needs and demands from the children in their care and this can be extremely overwhelming. The preschoolers are made to take a nap as a break from a stimulating environment (though they often don’t want to). But these breaks are not just for them. This nap time actually benefits the staff the most. It lets them re-focus on their job and acts as a refresher, allowing the staff member to be more compassionate and caring towards the children. The same is true with any other business, in that breaks allow employees to come back refreshed and renewed, allowing for a more joyful and productive working experience.
Alan Kohll from Forbes explains that “encouraging employees to take regular breaks throughout the day, including lunch breaks, is an easy way for employers to boost employee wellness along with work performance”. Putting work aside for short periods of time during the day allows the opportunity for everyone to reenergize and regain the motivation needed to perform well and happily. This is essential to maintaining a positive work environment and also to maximizing employee efficiency.