While lunchtime is an opportunity to break for some nourishment, part of the school lunch allure is allowing students a half hour or so to catch up with friends, cram for an afternoon test, buy a bake-sale item or win a trivia contest.
And while your food options may be more plentiful as you grow older, the midday meal may be a source of guilt or a seemingly unnecessary break for many adults, at least during the work week. And with the continuing presence of hybrid or fully remote models of work, many may decide against taking a break to eat. So if you tend to eat a salad at your desk with your head down, here are some reasons taking time out of your day to break for lunch can actually benefit your career.
Latest lunch trends
According to a 2022 survey conducted by ezCater, 78% of workers feel that having a lunch break improves their productivity at work. Yet, “1 in 10 employees never take a break away from their desks—and 70% eat while they work at least once a week,” along with 43% of workers who eat at their desks at least three times a week. Jordan McDonnell, a St. Louis-based transaction coordinator, is among those who sometimes work through lunch.
“It’s nice to be able to get more work done,” she says. She spends three days a week in the office, and two days working from home.
“My office has a kitchen that contains snacks, so I appreciate that I could quickly grab something if I needed to without having to leave the building,” she adds.
The survey also broke out results by generation, with some particularly interesting findings for Generation Z. “21% [of younger workers] said they don’t haven’t enough time in their day to get their work done if they take a break,” according to the study, and “1 in 4 Gen Z workers are worried their employer won’t look favorably on them if they take lunch.”
Why, exactly, might the fear or guilt of taking a lunch break exist? The ezCater survey reports that “56% of director-level and 51% of VPs (and above) work at their desks while eating lunch at least three times per week.” With this action, upper-level management is setting an example—ignoring breaks and working through lunch—more junior colleagues may think they need to follow.
Benefits of taking lunch breaks
So whether you prefer to eat through lunch or feel pressured because others in your company do so, it’s helpful to realize that there are many benefits of stepping away from the desk.
A 2021 Tork survey found that employees who take lunch breaks report that their breaks increase happiness (94%) and allow them time to take a fresh perspective (94%), maintain their mental focus (91%) and “return to work feeling refreshed and reenergized” (88%). Additionally, the survey found that “more than 9 in 10 employees say they are more likely to stay at a company where bosses encourage their employees to take a break.”
Additionally, according to the ezCater survey, a lunch break may boost not just performance, but also offer a means to reduce stress (40%) and burnout (37%) while improving happiness (46%) and boosting creativity in the latter half of the day (25%), among other benefits, all of which could only be a further boon to your career.
For those in the office, choosing to eat in the cafeteria, going out to eat with colleagues or simply walking together to pick up lunch and bring it back to the office can give you time to socialize and improve your relationships. Perhaps you’ll learn something new about a colleague or give your boss an opportunity to see you in a setting outside the strict confines of an office setting.
Kevin Kniffin, a Cornell University assistant professor and author of a study that found that groups that eat together perform better together, further espoused the values of eating together to Business News Daily.
“From an evolutionary anthropology perspective, eating together has a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue,” Kniffin states. “That seems to continue in today’s workplaces.”
Employers, practice what you preach
Despite the evident short-term benefits (recharging) and long-term benefits (networking, team effectiveness and boosting performance) of lunch breaks, junior staffers might still shy away from taking a break. Leaders can help set the tone by:
- Limiting lunchtime meetings. By protecting the lunch hour from meeting creep, you’re encouraging employees to take that time for themselves.
- Offer small group lunches or host networking events. This pulls employees from their desk to participate in in-person or Zoom events in which they can eat while getting to know their company or colleagues better.
- Be the change. Tell employees you’re taking lunch, block your calendar and then… take your lunch. Your example may make others feel they can do the same.
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.