Did you skip lunch last week—either by gobbling down something at your desk or forgoing food altogether? The odds are good that you did.
A 2012 workplace survey by Right Management found just one in five employees take actual lunch breaks. That’s a problem because both the lunch and the break are good for you.
Skipping lunch is bad for your mind, bad for your body, and bad for your workplace productivity.
Can’t Leave Their Desks
The good news is that most workers do eat something in the middle of the day. According to the Right Management survey, in addition to the one fifth of North Americans who take a lunch break, another two-fifths eat some food at their desks.
The bad news is that almost 40 percent of workers and managers eat some kind of lunch “only from time to time” or “seldom, if ever.”
Michael Haid, a vice president for the management firm, called this “yet another warning sign of the relentless stress experienced by workers.”
If we’re being honest, it’s worse than that.
The decline of the lunch hour is a sign of poor leadership. Organizational policies and team culture pressure workers and leaders alike to embrace busywork and distraction—and hurt their own long-term productivity in the process.
The Lunch Hour Dividend
A lunch hour is good because we need food if we are going to be energetic and sharp. Plus, we need a change of scenery if we are going to be creative. We might treat it like an interruption standing in our way, but there are at least two key reasons lunch is critical for peak performance throughout the day:
- Energy. We need fuel in the tank. Otherwise, our bodies and brains will punish us with distractions. Not only will we experience hunger pangs and thoughts of food, but we’ll also experience drowsiness, fuzziness, and fatigue.
So it’s good to make sure that we eat something healthy in the middle of the day. It’s also beneficial if we get away to do that, which takes me to the second reason.
Creativity. Taking lunch to your desk might seem like a good idea, but it’s actually detrimental. “Creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment, and especially when they expose themselves to nature-like environments,” Kimberly Elsbach, an expert in workplace psychology at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, told NPR in an interview.
She argues that “staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to the creative process. It’s also detrimental to doing the rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha!’ moment.”
Miss this and you’re missing out on what I call the Lunch Hour Dividend. You’re sacrificing breakthrough moments that could take your organizations to the next level for the unbroken monotony of calls and meetings and emails. That’s a bad trade.
Lunch by Example
Leaders have to be intentional about turning this around. Let it be known that you want people to take their lunch breaks and set the example. Your team will eventually follow.
Here’s my challenge to you if you regularly skip your lunch break. Today, get away from your desk. Eat something with friends or colleagues or on a bench outside. Then go for a walk in a field or a park.
It will help you get clarity about the first half of your day and give you energy and insight to maximize the rest.
Question: How has skipping lunch affected your energy, creativity or productivity in the past?