Lunch Break - To Have or Have Not

lunch-2007-04-03a Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer | – Mon, Aug 13, 2012, writes:

"When's the last time you left your desk and took a real lunch break?

For many workers, the answer is "not recently," a trend driven by a bad economy and high workplace expectations, researchers say. A recent McDonald's ad campaign even took advantage of lunch break dissatisfaction with a series of commercials telling workers, "It's your lunch. Take it."

Although there are no national statistics on lunch breaks, small-scale surveys find that up to two-thirds of workers skip lunch or eat lunch at their desks.

Lost lunch breaks

Skipped lunch breaks are a growing trend, said Danielle Hartmann, the director for corporate partnerships at Boston College's Center for Work & Family.

"I think the expectation is that more people are expected to work more with less," Hartmann told LiveScience. "Workloads have been exceptionally high and people don't feel like they can take the time to eat." [7 Perfect Survival Foods]

A survey by CareerBuilder released in 2010 found that 18 percent of workers report always eating at their desks and 16 percent said they skipped lunch in favor of work. A third of employees surveyed said that they did take lunch, but spent less than 30 minutes eating. Likewise, a 2011 online survey by workplace consulting group Right Management found that 34 percent of North American workers said they ate at their desks, and 31 percent said they occasionally, rarely or never took lunch.

"Many of the organizations have been downsized, and as a result, folks have significantly more responsibility," said Ron Sims, a vice president at Right Management. "They don't want to be seen as somebody who is not fully contributing."

Benefits of breaks

Research on call-center workers and software developers, two very different job types, has found benefits to taking breaks throughout the day, Rothbard said. What you do on these breaks mattered, she added. Anything replenishing, such as relaxing or socializing (if enjoyable), tends to lend people renewed vigor for the post-break stretch. Running around trying to cram in extra errands or chores, on the other hand, does little for afternoon productivity. [7 Things That Will Make You Happy]

The benefits of breaks range from ergonomic (getting out of your chair occasionally is good for the body) to professional (chatting with co-workers at lunch can spark new camaraderie and collaborations), Boston College's Hartmann said.

Taking back lunch

There are no federal requirements for lunch breaks, though many states have laws that require meal breaks for hourly workers. Many salaried employees are not covered by these laws.

Nevertheless, some companies are seeing the benefit of encouraging lunch breaks, Hartmann said. She works with several companies that have started encouraging employees to hit the dining hall or the fitness center during lunch hour as a way to promote health and creativity.

The HRmeister: Do you take a lunch break?  Why or why not?  Do you see any ties to the level of engagement of your employees with regard to whether or not they take a lunch break?