When noon rolls around, glance at your coworkers' desks. It's very likely that you'll find your colleagues pecking away at their keyboards, maybe pausing to wolf down a sandwich between E-mail and paperwork.
Hefty workloads, pressure to do more with less, and an office culture in which hour-long breaks aren't the norm are all reasons why we skip lunch. According to a new online poll by Right Management, the talent and career management division of Manpower, less than half of employees leave their desk to take a lunch break each day. Of those polled, 20 percent usually eat at their desk, 20 percent only break for lunch "from time to time," and 13 percent say they "seldom, if ever" take a lunch break.
Sure, people skipped lunch in more prosperous times—as Gordon Gekko said in the 1987 movie Wall Street, "Lunch is for wimps." But in today's dreary job market, "that stress and pressure has been particularly exacerbated. People are just so stretched," says Bram Lowsky, senior vice president and general manager for Right Management. "Sometimes it's simply cultural survival—'I can't take lunch because it's going to look bad ... 'The more I do, hopefully the stronger position I will be in.'"
The reality is that working through lunch can be counter-productive. Lunch breaks are good for your physical and mental health—and even your company's bottom line. Being tied to your desk the entire day can lead to higher levels of stress, and as a result, poorer health and decreased productivity, Right Management points out. That makes sense: taking some midday downtime, whether it involves eating lunch, exercising, or reading a book, allows you to recharge.
Some people feel so strongly about the benefits of a break that they've gone on a lunch crusade. The "Take Back Your Lunch" movement, started by The Energy Project, a firm dedicated to helping organizations and companies build a "fully engaged workforce," challenged workers to step away from their computers and take a collective lunch break every Wednesday this summer. It has since sparked more than 100 meetups throughout the country.
Other findings from the poll, which was conducted in partnership with business-oriented social networking site LinkedIn: Men are more likely than women to take lunch (49 percent versus 42 percent), and the younger the worker, the more likely he or she is to take a break. Of those ages 18 to 24, 57 percent said they always break for lunch. This compares with 53 percent of those between the ages of 25 to 34, 46 percent of those ages 35 to 54, and 45 percent of people ages 55 and older.
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Consultants are the most likely workers to take lunch, perhaps because many are self-employed and spend a lot of time networking. People in sales roles and human resources positions are the least likely.