Yes, In Fact, You Should Be Taking Your Hour Lunch Break. This Is Why.

You’re not too busy. …by Melissa West
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Picture this scenario: you’re at work and it’s about 12:30pm and you start to get a little hungry. You either log onto seamless web and order the same thing you probably ordered yesterday or you run downstairs to your trusty deli or quasi-fast-food chain-masked-as-healthy café ( Pret-a-Manger, Hale & Hearty, etc.) and grab some weird chicken wrap that somehow hits the spot every time. You get that food at your desk and somewhere in between the e-mails and Facebook trolling, you scarf down lunch without even blinking. Eyes transfixed onto your computer screen, food nestled right in front of your keyboard, and maybe some small talk amongst co-workers going on in your peripheral.  Sound familiar? This…is lunch in Corporate America. If you are one of those people who enjoys a long leisurely lunch out of the office, you are either very lucky or a CEO.
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I recently became one of those lucky people when I began working at a company where employees not only take a one hour lunch, but are encouraged to do so. The belief is that taking this one hour lunch will make you more productive, energized, efficient and happier during the other hours of your day. My first month of employment so far has totally opened my eyes to the benefits of giving yourself a real break at lunchtime. For five years, I was accustomed to scarfing down my “Just Salad” delivery in a stressed-out haze while I stared at my Outlook calendar trying to find out what day Christmas lands on in 2016.

What I’ve realized is that working through lunch is a rather vain attempt to prove to co-workers that you’re such a “go-getter” and you have SO much on your plate that you just COULDN’T step away. Is that really the case? Or are we all subconsciously peer pressuring each other to skip lunch? Most likely when you started whatever job you’re working at now, everyone else didn’t leave for lunch, so you didn’t either. You’re certainly not going to be the first one that takes liberties with your company’s unwritten lunch laws.

I know what you are thinking and I used to be just like you: “I seriously do not have time to leave my desk, I average about 10 incoming e-mails every 5 minutes and most of them are urgent. Leaving for an hour is just not an option for me and if YOU can take a one hour lunch then clearly you are just not as busy as I am.” First of all, check that ego and realize you are not the busiest person in the world. (and then read this great NY Times article about “The Busy Trap.”  No matter how much you have going on, one must realize that taking a break will enhance productivity, not take away from it. There are tons of articles and research backed behind the idea that taking a mental break and truly stepping away from your work, is not only healthy for you, but will allow you to better time manage and be more efficient.

A great Slate article, “Let’s Do Lunch,” notes some of the benefits of taking even just 30 minutes during lunch to step away from your desk and recharge. Additionally, grabbing lunch with co-workers outside of your normal work environment can lead to great ideas and makes it easier to approach your colleagues in the professional sphere.

A company called “The Energy Project” whose client list includes the likes of Google, Coca Cola, Sony and Pfizer helps consult organizations on energizing and transforming their workforce by skillfully managing their energy across four dimensions: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Tony Schwartz, the CEO of The Energy Project, is a contributor for the NY Times (you can find one of his best articles here, and he explains, “Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work.” Schwartz is also the columnist for “Life@Work”, a great series on NY Time’s Dealbook with pieces on how to transform the way employees work, with the underlying theme of increasing energy levels.

One of the first things The Energy Project implements when they take on a client is a program called “Take Back Your Lunch.” They have been able to prove that when a company’s workforce takes a full hour lunch per day, employees are more productive, energized and focused for the rest of the day. Employees that are more productive and energized, needless to say, generate better results. The Take Back Your Lunch initiative encourages companies to allow their employees a one-hour lunch even if it’s just for one day per week.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 11.50.36 PMEven if a company does not have the means to hire The Energy Project for their consulting services, the Project encourages senior managers to implement a few practices that will immediately show positive results. You can find all of these tips for free on their website. Take Back Your Lunch is probably the most important, and encouraged of these practices. An attorney, Frances Slusarz,  featured in an AOL Jobs article organized a “Take Back Your Lunch” event at her office. Every Wednesday for one hour she encourages those in her office to take the full hour. As for the other workdays she has increased her lunch to 20-30 minutes, which she considers a success. Slusarz explains, “”Getting out for lunch was a means of escape. It made the job more bearable. It allowed me to get a breath of fresh air and sunshine, too, and put me in a better mood to get through the long afternoon. Even today, I still insist on a full hour for lunch.”

Think that suggesting a one hour lunch at your office wouldn’t go over so well? The Energy Project provides guidelines and information to those people who want to suggest the one hour lunch to their boss or superiors.  If you ever find yourself in a meeting or conversation where colleagues are brainstorming ideas to increase productivity and ultimately, results…I think this would be a great idea to pitch. Want some facts to back up your idea? Look at what happened when Sony engaged the Energy Project in 2008:

  • 93% of participants reported that as a result of the program, they began bringing higher levels of energy to work.
  • 98% felt more focused and productive
  • Some version of our curriculum has been delivered to all 5500 Sony Pictures employees around the world.
  • In the midst of a severe recession, and a dramatic industry-wide decline in DVD sales, Sony recorded one of its most profitable years ever in the fiscal year ending March 2009.

For me, I can safely say that having a one hour lunch has dramatically changed the type of worker I am. I am more focused, happier and excited to come to work each day. I have time to get a little exercise in, make my lunch at the office and get to better know my co-workers. The one hour perfectly breaks up my day, making the hours before and after both productive and focused. I notice those around me are happier and overall badass at their jobs. I never would have thought that by leaving New York (I moved to Florida a month ago), I would find myself amongst some of the most hard-working, focused and productive co-workers I’ve ever had. And I know…the one hour lunch has something to do with it. So next time you find yourself stuffing face, dry-eyed in front of your computer, think about the detrimental effects your lack of  a break is having on your focus and energy levels. Step outside, go call your parents, take a long walk, run an errand, sit down at a cafe or take a jaunt in the park. Whatever it is, know you are doing yourself, and your company, a huge favor.

-Melissa West

Love this? Then you’ll also love this: Active Procrastination: Creating Productivity Out of Distraction 


2 thoughts on “Yes, In Fact, You Should Be Taking Your Hour Lunch Break. This Is Why.

  1. Zach
    October 1, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I’ve been lucky enough to get an hour lunch break that is encouraged by my company. We have in an in-office cafeteria but my particular group will often cut our lunch a little short to take a walk around the building. By the time we are back at our desks we are refreshed and ready to power through the rest of the day. It’s also a good opportunity to get to know your coworkers better and have a conversation about something besides work. Great article.

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