Why do 27% of North Americans forfeit their lunch break?
The answer is not that employees are not given one, but rather that they electively choose to take a shorter lunch or work through it completely. By law, all North American companies are required to allot a lunchtime break for their employees, but only one-third of them are taking this opportunity to recharge. Working through lunch, staying at your desk browsing the Internet, or cutting your break short to get back to work sooner all have a direct correlation to lower engagement and productivity!
We feel the effects of working relentlessly with no breaks as fatigue, increased stress, and difficulty focusing. Consider this: ten million working days a year are lost due to work-related stress.
In 2015, only 1 in 5 office employees reported taking an actual lunch away from their desk¹. A workforce that is suffering from these symptoms is undoubtedly going to be less productive.
If the point of taking a lunch break is to reset and come back to work more focused, we should all be taking full advantage.
Surveys have found that the top reasons expressed by employees for not taking advantage of lunch breaks are:
- Having too much work
- Workplace culture
- Wanting to appear hard-working to management
In the moment, choosing to continue working seems more productive: we don’t lose our train of thought and the additional work time makes us feel we’re completing our tasks more quickly. Unfortunately, this is an oversight. We don’t see the long-term and more intrinsic effects of this choice.
Kimberly Lesbach, a management professor at UC-Davis specializing in psychology of the workplace, noted that “never taking a break from very careful thought-work actually reduces your ability to be creative².” It’s not just creativity that is affected; psychologist Dr. Janet Scarborough Civitelli says that overall marginal returns are reduced when our brains are required to exert continuous pressure during long shifts. Walking in a quiet park, going for a lunch-time workout or reading a book – anything to divert your mind from its point of focus for 8 hours a day will noticeably increase your ability to engage back in the office.
The recommended approach to decreasing sick days as an employer is to encourage a healthy lifestyle. This means: A higher percentage of employees utilizing their lunch break equals a lower percentage of disengagement and sick days. While implementing breaks throughout the day grants the opportunity to reset one’s mind, encouraging staff to take advantage of their lunch will have the same effect and more.
Time to leave the office and exercise, have a nutritious lunch, or possibly run some errands effectively minimizes stress, increases cognitive function, and just plain makes your staff happy!
As the employer, there are a few different approaches to increasing your workforce lunch-time takers.
First, lead by example. If employees see you taking a full lunch break, exercising, or meditating, the will likely feel more comfortable doing the same.
Second, actively vocalize to your staff that it is encouraged to take their lunch breaks and do whatever they feel will help them relax and reset. You could even provide healthy snacks or reading materials to entice employees away from their digital screens.
Lastly, ensure that your company culture is pro-breaks. Taking 20-minute breaks to practice meditation or mindfulness – even just from your seat – is a proven way to help relax and focus. Staff should take a few minutes to get up, stretch, have a glass of water or a cup of tea a few times a day. This isn’t wasted time, this is invested time.