Are you happy to see your employees powering through lunchtime by eating at their desks, or skipping breaks altogether? Not so fast. Working through lunch seems like a sign of motivated workers, but research shows a dark side to this habit. A new study from Right Management shows that neglecting to take breaks throughout one’s workday decreases productivity, morale, and wellness. Another study conducted by the employment consultants at CareerBuilder found that only 20% of executives eat lunch at sit down restaurants while 40% brown bag their lunches in their office and 17% grab quick bites at fast food.
Many who elect to take quick lunches in order to get more work done aren’t actually getting more work done. As James O’Toole, Professor and Author of “The New American Workplace,” notes, your attempt to eat at your desk stunts your emotional intelligence, makes you a worse executive or employee, and harms your creativity.
If you and/or your employees have made a habit of eating at your desks or foregoing breaks in the name of efficiency, it’s time you knew the truth about desk eating.
John Trougakos, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior & Human Resources Management at the University of Toronto studied lunch break patterns in office workers. What did he find? “The absence of a proper lunch break can cause greater fatigue and lower productivity.” Lunch breaks, and breaks in general, are an opportunity to plug the energy drain in order to recharge.
“We really only have so much psychological energy that we can use on any given day,” says Trougakos. “Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective at everything we do.” In other words, you may think your employees’ decision to work through lunch or refusal to take breaks throughout the day makes them a hard worker, but it actually makes them worse at their job. Not only that, but the fatigue and exhaustion that pile up throughout a workday can be a liability for which your company is responsible.
When your employees are eating at their desks instead of with one another in a specific, desirable area of your office, their workplace satisfaction drains quickly. Brian Wansink, Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, discovered that the benefits of socializing are similar to those of exercise, citing that one’s stress and blood pressure levels tend to decrease as we socialize, leaving us feeling happier than if we chosen to eat alone at our desk.
Tests conducted at MIT by Dr. Alex Pentland found that among employees, those who frequently took breaks to socialize with other employees happened to post the highest productivity numbers as well. Coincidence? Dr. Pentland doesn’t think so, “What you’re learning implicitly and tacitly from chatting [with coworkers] is how to manage your life in job situations. Part of that is about actual job issues, but a lot of it is about your attitude toward the job and your attitude toward other people” (italics mine). Your employees’ attitudes are directly related to how, where, and with whom they eat their lunch.
When Silicon Valley Software Engineer David Drake decided he’d never eat lunch at his desk again, many were skeptical. The hardworking tech master soon discovered, however, that skipping the desk lunches opened up opportunities he hadn’t been aware of before.
“The quality of the productivity I was getting during those 30 to 60 minutes was peanuts compared to the actual productivity I feel upon returning from lunch,” Drake says. Besides boosting his productivity throughout the day, Drake claims to be enjoying his life outside of work more ever since he started making time for lunch with others, “Exercising my choice in the matter gave me a sense of freedom and entitlement I wasn’t ever getting from eating at my desk. I have a greater sense of ownership over my time when I’m ‘at work.’”
Wrapping up his candid thoughts on the experience, the Silicon Valley success story made it clear he’d keep his promise, “I’m enjoying work more and I’m enjoying life more. I can’t think of any good reason to go back to the way I was.”
Are you and your employees enjoying your lunch breaks? If not, the place to start is making sure there is a desirable space within your offices that brings your employees together. A work café or well-designed break area can help end desk eating and bring the benefits of a culture that works, and eats, well together.