Skipping Your Lunch Breaks? Even Your Boss Wants You to Go out for a Bite, a New Study Says.
While it was once common to take an hour for lunch, today the idea of stepping away from the office for a whole hour each day probably sounds laughable. A “lunch hour” is starting to sound like an antiquated concept -- like something from the era of Walkmans and typewriters.
But while employees might feel busier than ever trying to keep up with every email or instant message, employee engagement in American workplaces has hit an all-time low. In fact, Gallup’s 2017 U.S. Employee Engagement tracking study found that only one-third of employees polled said they felt engaged at their jobs.
As a brand that serves both the needs of office workers and restaurants, we wanted to find out where the disconnect was happening. So, our Tork “Take Back the Lunch Break” survey talked to 1,600 bosses and employees across the United States and Canada, asking about their breaks at work and posing questions about employee engagement, productivity and job satisfaction.
One of our main findings? Many employees expressed worry that their bosses or co-workers would judge them if they took a real break. As a result, respondents indicated, the average break lasts less than 30 minutes. That’s barely enough time to buy a meal, let alone enjoy it!
That set us to wondering: Might taking an actual lunch break prove a quick, easy fix to improving employee engagement across workplaces? According to our study, the answer was yes. You might think that eating at your desk is a sign of dedication to your job, but in fact, our research showed, you can actually be more productive if you step away.
Tork teamed up with Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and Affiliated Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at University of Southern California (USC). We aimed to take an in-depth look at the modern lunch break and what we could do to improve returns for on-the-job performance. Here are four benefits we found:
1. Your boss wants you to take a break.
One of the most concerning reasons why employees in the study weren't taking a lunch break was that nearly one in five worried that their boss wouldn't think they were hard workers. Thirteen percent also worried that their coworkers would judge them negatively.
But, according to our research, bosses want their employees to get out for a break. So, there’s a real disconnect happening, because the vast majority (88 percent) of North American bosses in the study said they thought their employees would say they were encouraged to take a regular lunch break, but only 62 percent of employees actually felt encouraged.
Takeaway: Just as great coaches recognize the need for their players to recuperate in order to perform their best, your boss likely knows that your break helps, rather than hinders, your work. But it does seem that not every boss is communicating that idea in the most effective way.
2. An hour away could make you effective all day.
Employees polled who take regular lunch breaks said they felt more efficient at their jobs. Seventy-eight percent of respondents who took a daily lunch break said they were as effective and efficient at work as they would like to be, compared to only 71 percent of those who didn't take a daily break.
Takeaway: Think of that 7 percent gap ike the difference between an A- and A+ in job performance. Something as simple as getting away from his or her desk could take an employee's work to the next level.
3. You might even like your job more.
Happy employees are often top-performing employees. What’s more, employees in the study who took time out for lunch were more likely to say they were satisfied with their jobs and to score higher on a number of employee engagement metrics. They were less likely to want to change jobs and more likely to say they had a strong desire to be an active member of their company and feel valued as an employee.
Takeway: Based on this data, we concluded that it’s possible that stepping away from one's desk can help an employee feel more eager to come back to work. Nobody’s energy is unlimited, so taking a break in the middle of the day for lunch is a recovery period, allowing employees to come back feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.
4. It’s no wonder that employees still value their lunch breaks.
The “lunch hour” may not be as ubiquitous as it once was, but it hasn’t completely lost its value. Nearly 90 percent of North American employees in the study considered the ability to take a lunch break critical to whether or not they'd accept a new job. That may not come as a surprise to managers, but how about this finding: About a quarter of workers we surveyed would rather have longer and/or more regular lunch breaks than a small pay increase.
Takeaway: Armed with this information, managers and employers can be better positioned to attract and retain the best talent through leading by example and making it clear that they prioritize their employees’ well-being and job satisfaction.
For employees, short breaks pack a big punch. So, if you're an employee, whatever’s stopping you from taking a lunch break -- whether it’s your workload (the most common factor causing employees to skip lunch) or your desire to look good in front of your boss -- it’s likely that you’re actually missing out on major benefits if you don’t take some time away from your desk each day.
And, if you're a boss, the next time you think your workers may be feeling overworked or overwhelmed, remember that even the toughest professional athletes need a halftime to keep up their performance: Show yourself to be the best kind of "coach."