Getting away from your desk at lunchtime seems to be an ever-increasing difficulty. I mean, who can take a break when there are so many deadlines, and it is just as easy to eat food while replying to emails?
Common ‘justifications’ for mindlessly swallowing food while working are:
“I’m too busy.”
“I need to finish a report.”
“I’ve got too much to do.”
“I’m so behind.”
“I have to have this ready for a meeting this afternoon.”
“My inbox is sooooooo full.”
Have you ever heard yourself say these statements? We all have.
Some interesting research that ING Direct found in regards to this topic was:
- The typical Aussie lunch break is between 15-30 minutes.
- 28% of people habitually eat at their desk.
- 33% are skipping lunch entirely once or more a week.
- 10% work through their lunch break.
- 7% used their break for unrelated work activities such as personal admin, phone calls or shopping.
- 22% is unaccounted for in this survey.
Richard Denniss from The Australian Institute says company culture often contributes to employees spending lunch at their desk. “In many workplaces, being seen to be sitting at your desk has become an important indicator of your commitment to your job,” he says.
“But it’s quite clear that people working in that way are not at their most productive. They’re not at their most creative. They’re not at their most communicative. And in the long run, the best staff will leave. It’s a very short-term indicator of a productive workplace, to confuse not taking lunch with everything going well.”
So why is it important to take a lunch break?
- Recharge your brain’s capacity – by giving your brain time to rest and recharge, your coping abilities will increase, as will your emotional intelligence, decision-making skills, memory and focus.
- Improve physical health – by stepping away from work and nourishing your body, you will improve digestion, impact blood pressure, and improve sleep.
- Stress management – it is impossible for anyone to work every minute of every day without eventually burning out. Taking breaks has a big impact on your ability to deal with work and life stress. Click to tweet
- Increase afternoon energy levels – if you experience that 2-3pm energy slump then taking a lunch break can make a real difference to how you feel and how much work you get through during the afternoon.
- Enjoyment – one in three people who were surveyed by The Australian Institute said lunch breaks made their day more enjoyable. When professionals enjoy their work it leads to a happier, more productive workplace.
Beyond Blue CEO Kate Carnell says, “it is time to reclaim the lunchbreak otherwise your physical and your mental health suffers, as does your productivity. Eating at your desk means you’re not getting the activity you need, you’re not getting up, you’re not getting circulation moving and it’s found that inactivity, sitting in one place for prolonged periods of time, is really not good for either your physical or your mental health.”
5 Ways To Make The Most of Your Lunch Break
- Something is better than nothing – even if it can only be for 15mins. If you haven’t taken a proper lunch break for a while, start by taking one a week for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. Once you are comfortable with the fact that you are still staying on top of your work, then add a second one.
- Natural light – getting outside into the natural light will have noticeable physical and mental benefits for you. Sunlight plays a part in releasing melatonin, which controls our daily day-night cycle (called our circadian rhythm). When this works well we have more energy in the day and can sleep better at night.
- Set an alarm – put a recurring appointment in your calendar so this recharge time is scheduled and you don’t accidentally work though it.
- Digital detox – leave your phone/iPad charging in the office so you can recharge your brain instead. Don’t use this precious time to catch up on your social media feed. Give your brain a break from all stimulation so you reap the rewards for the afternoon.
- Make it social – find a friend or eat together as a group. By listening and learning and laughing with your colleagues in a casual environment encourages better working relationships.
A workplace that encourages a culture of health and wellness is more likely to attract and retain staff, experience higher staff morale, and create a positive working environment.
As A Leader What Can You Do?
- Lead by example – take a lunch break yourself. Move away from your desk, go outside, and leave your phone in your desk drawer. Even if an issue occurs within that 15-30mins while you are eating, you are likely to be able to sort it out on your return. If this feels too overwhelming, then let someone know where you will be in case of emergency so they can come and get you.
- Organise a team lunch once a week in the office, to make it really clear that it’s not just okay, but it’s actually part of the workplace culture for everyone to sit down and have a break.
- During appraisals, talk about work hours and the benefits of micro-breaks during the day. If you want your team to be happy, healthy, and productive you need to encourage them to rejuvenate.
Leadership comes from the top, so it is important that a culture is created that encourages people to be healthy, happy and productive. This can only occur when they are not burnt out. Lunch breaks are a great way to prevent this.