Human Capital Management Blog

Strategies for HCM Professionals

The lunch break can still have a big impact on employee productivity

healthy foodOne of the chief responsibilities of every employer is to maintain consistently high levels of employee retention and productivity throughout the office on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there’s some disagreement about how to do so, especially when it comes to the “productivity” part.

The typical employee only has an opportunity to be productive for about eight hours a day – typically, from 9 to 5. The question is how to use those hours. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the value of breaks – especially the lunch break in the middle of the day. Stopping for lunch may actually be incredibly important to a majority of workers – you might think that setting your work aside would be counterintuitive, but according to the Society for Human Resource Management, there’s a chance it might actually make you more productive, not less, in the long run.

Continuous work? It doesn’t work
If your employees were robots, perhaps they would be capable of working nonstop for eight hours between 9 and 5, but the truth is they’re not. Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project in New York, told SHRM that people can’t be treated like machines.

“Human beings are not designed to work continuously,” Schwartz argued. “Great athletes have long understood that intermittent rest and renewal are critical to sustainable high performance. Even machines break down if they’re not regularly maintained.”

If you want your employees to be effective workers, you need to give them time off during the day.

We’ve gotten away from lunch
The lunch break, seeing as it’s right in the middle of the typical workday, is the perfect opportunity to give people time away from their desks. Unfortunately, Kimberly Elsbach, professor at the Graduate School of Management at UC-Davis, told SHRM that lunch breaks are on the decline.

“We’ve gotten away from [taking time for lunch] because of this ever-increasing pressure to do more in less time,” Elsbach said. “It’s almost seen as unprofessional at work to schedule a lunch time that might interfere with scheduled work meetings.”

We’ve begun expecting people to work constantly, even through their standard meal times, and this expectation is unreasonable. When will we make time for lunch again?

Breaks aren’t just for eating
Another interesting point is that lunch breaks don’t have to be just for lunch – employees can also use them for socializing and bonding. Phyllis Parker Phillips, workforce development specialist at Goodwill Industries of Central North Carolina, told SHRM that her employees love playing games, for example.

“Mancala was our favorite board game around the lunch table,” Phillips said. “Can you imagine a table full of execs high-fiving and jumping around during their lunch?”

If that sounds silly to you, it might be time to rethink the way you view office break times. They may mean a temporary interruption of work, but in the long run, they make people happier, healthier and better at their jobs.

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