Is it time to try something new for lunch?

Taking a break during lunch can help you be more productive during the later hours of the day.

Most team members have their own lunchtime rituals. Some can always be found eating at their desk, while others are a fixture of the break room every day at a certain hour. How team members use their lunch break is usually not high on the list of concerns for managers, but evidence shows it is worth examining. According to a study by organizational behavior professor John Trougakos at the University of Toronto, lunch breaks can offer valuable insight into an employee's work habits.

Published in the journal Academy of Management, the study looked at 78 professional's productivity and approach to lunch over a 10-day period, and then interviewed participants to gain more data about how they felt during lunch and throughout the day. Trougakos and his team found that team members who were more relaxed during their lunchbreak had more energy at the end of the day, and were therefore more productive than their coworkers that did not.

Eating at one's desk is often associated with being more committed and productive, while those who take time to relax during their break may seem less engaged in comparison. This study shows the danger of making these value judgments, and reminds managers to focus on behaviors that are "above the waterline."

If you notice that many of your team members remain at their desks and fixed on their screens during lunch, it is important  to encourage them to take some time for themselves to remain productive throughout the rest of the day. Below are some tips to help your team members work more consistently:

  • Keep the break area clean and well-stocked.
  • If possible, provide a space where employees can quietly read a book or relax during their break.
  • Encourage employees to take time away from their desk. 
  • Set the example by taking a break during your own lunch.

The study also found that employees who felt they had more control over when and where to take their lunch break were more productive during the end of day, regardless of what they did during their break. This might be a good reason to introduce to some flexibility into your own lunchtime scheduling. 

However, it is important to be particularly conscious of how non-exempt employees use their lunch. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates all non-exempt employees be paid for every hour worked — and this includes the time they may spend working while eating lunch at their desk. Many employers mistakenly believe that if an employee "decides" to work during their break, then this would still count as a lunch break, and not have to be compensated. For more information on the FLSA's regulations for non-exempt workers, explore our recent article "Even off the clock, its on your dime." 

Understanding how to enable your employees to be their most productive can be a challenge. However, through comprehensive management training programs, you can provide the leaders within your organization with the knowledge they need to keep team members engaged and productive throughout the day, as well as evidence the organization's commitment to team members' wellbeing.