The requirement for organisations to provide their employees with meal breaks is stipulated in employment regulations and human resource policies.
However, it is quite common in today’s fast-paced and technologically hyper-connected office environment to see employees skipping lunch or hurriedly eating at their desks.
While it is much easier to feel the need for a meal break when engaged in manual work, this is generally not so in sedentary occupations.
A review of studies and surveys indicate that up to one in four office-based employees see themselves as too busy to take a proper break for lunch. And one in three frequently lunch at their desk.
The management concept of the “working lunch” is also often misunderstood as a way to maximise productivity.
Although there are many underlying factors for employees sacrificing a proper lunch break, the following are some of the often-cited reasons:
Too much work pressure due to mounting urgent deadlines;
Giving up personal time is a necessary requirement for career advancement;
Skipping lunch impresses the bosses and makes the person more valuable to the organisation; and
Losing track of time due to undivided attention on work.
The truth is, eating lunch at your desk and not taking proper lunch breaks are not indicators of efficiency. Research has shown that people actually work less effectively in the afternoons after not taking time off for lunch.
Primarily, a healthy lunch is necessary to nourish the body and to get the optimum energy needed to engage in work for the rest of the day. Meals taken while you are distracted and stressed by work will not be properly digested.
Apart from maintaining a healthy diet, there are other important reasons why you should take proper lunch breaks:
Enjoying a leisurely meal relaxes you and reduces stress. It is necessary to recharge your batteries so that you can get through the rest of the workday.
In fact, studies show that working through lunch generally leaves employees irritable and stressed, which greatly impacts motivation and effective output.
The mid-day break from work activities, especially those demanding focused concentration, helps to improve the quality of your work by providing the detachment and distraction necessary for brain activities to consolidate thoughts.
In addition to giving your eyes their needed rest and other positive restorative effects, leaving your cubicle or desk is an important reminder that there is life beyond the office.
This is important for setting boundaries that keep your work-life balance healthy. Such boundaries are not only vital for relaxation and physical health, they also give employees a sense of personal value and job satisfaction.
Missing the occasional lunch break may be inevitable in today’s work environment but constantly missing lunch breaks should never become the office norm.
Managers need to be aware of such lapses and address issues of work prioritisation and time management if employees are frequently missing lunch due to work pressure and deadlines.
As much as the organisation’s bottom line is important, healthy employees are just as important for sustaining productivity. It is therefore important for managers and employees to recognise that the lunch break is a necessary planned activity within the normal part of the workday schedule.