Time to take a lunch break

by Miriam Bell19 Nov 2012

Eight out of 10 employees do not regularly leave their desk to get lunch, according to a survey of 1,023 US employees by talent consultancy Right Management.

Many workplace cultures make people feel they need to apologise for stepping away from the grindstone even briefly, Michael Haid from Rights Management told Fortune magazine. “One has to ask if such pressure, without any let-up, actually benefits the individual or the organisation. Does it really improve performance? We are definitely not talking about a return to the days of the three-martini lunch, but have we gone too far in the other direction?”

Employees fearful of being seen as slackers have started to sacrifice their break times to keep up with their workloads, Haid continued. “Whether the organisation is imposing unrealistic workloads or whether employees are progressively giving up their own break times, leaders need to pay close attention and understand the early warning signs of burnout.”

However, according to Tony Schwartz from The Energy Project, an increasing number of companies are recognising the problem. “When employees are overworked and stressed out, their capacity to do great work is at risk… We see a clear link between exhausted employees and poor performance. Avoiding burning people out is critical to success – both for companies and for individual bosses,” he told Fortune.

Avoiding burnout involves encouraging employees to take breaks, he continued. “When demand in our lives intensifies, we tend to hunker down and push harder. The trouble is that, without any downtime to refresh and recharge, we're less efficient, make more mistakes, and get less engaged with what we're doing.”

The paradox is that by pushing people too hard, you actually make them less productive, Schwartz said. “But if employees learn to manage their energy better – partly by taking short respites from work throughout the day – they get far more done, and add much more value, in far less time.”

One way of ensuring this is letting employees recharge at midday with a collegial lunch break, he added. “Look at companies like Google. Everyone goes to lunch there. The food is great, and it's free. And people are having terrific conversations in the dining room. Facebook and Twitter now offer the same thing… Obviously, these are highly successful companies, with forward-thinking management. Look at what's happening there, and you're seeing the future.”


Related story: Drop that coffee and get back to work


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