We know eating a nutritious lunch can improve our health and productivity, but it turns out how, where and with whom we eat our midday meal is just as important as what we eat. While you may think you’re being more productive by eating lunch at your desk, taking your lunch elsewhere may be the best thing you can do for your own health and the health of your business.
John Trougakos, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior & HR Management at the University of Toronto recently published a study on lunch break patterns in office workers and says the absence of a proper lunch break can cause greater fatigue and lower productivity.
Here's why you should never eat lunch at your desk, and how to foster a more break-friendly culture:
1. Give your brain a break.
"We really only have so much psychological energy that we can use on any given day. All efforts to control behavior, to perform and to focus draw on that pool of psychological energy. Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective at everything we do," says Trougakos. The mid-day meal provides a perfect opportunity to detach ourselves from the source of that energy drain and recharge our resources.
2. Boost cognitive abilities by taking your lunch to the park.
While simply changing your environment can help to stimulate new ideas, a 2013 study by researchers at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh showed sitting in green spaces and even viewing a park from an office window had restorative effects and helped improve attention fatigue and quicken stress recovery.
3. Create a "break" culture.
Trougakos says too often employees feel pressured to eat lunch at their desks because they’re afraid of appearing lazy by taking a proper lunch break. When Trougakos studied office workers’ lunch break patterns, however, he found employees who felt pressured to work through their lunch experienced greater fatigue. “Fatigue is related to decrements in efficiency, productivity and accuracy of work,” he says. Setting up a proper break room signifies to employees that the company culture values break times, resulting in less fatigue and more a more productive workforce.
4. Avoid business lunches.
A business lunch can have the same fatiguing effects as eating lunch while working at your desk. "It doesn't provide you with the chance to recover," says Trougakos. Although we may assume lunchtime socializing can help us to relax, Trougakos says that wasn't the case for the employees in his study if they were forced to socialize with co-workers and if the talk centered on work. "You’re hanging out with people who you can't necessarily kick back and be yourself with," says Trougakos.
While socializing with co-workers led to higher levels of fatigue, talking on the phone with a friend, on the other hand, resulted in lower levels of fatigue. If you do schedule a business lunch, take a break before heading back to the office to go for a walk or do an activity you find enjoyable such as listening to music or talking to a friend – anything that allows you to detach for a few moments.