The Value of a True Lunch Break

Working through lunch can sap your energy and lower your productivity.

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The days of workers stepping out of the office for a leisurely midday meal apparently have vanished, except perhaps in Hollywood portrayals. A recent poll by Manpower found that fewer than half of employees leave their desks for lunch each day. Yet not taking a break can be counterproductive, sapping your energy and lowering your productivity. It also can lead to higher stress levels and, as a result, poorer health.

Experts recommend taking some downtime to mentally recharge, whether it involves eating lunch, taking a walk, or reading a book. "Exhaustion and fatigue levels really do decrease" when people take some time, says Charlotte Fritz, an assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Portland State University. Fritz's research has included studies on job stress and the benefits of workday breaks.

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If you can't stop for lunch, then try a "microbreak," she says. Grab some coffee, run a quick errand, or listen to music. But don't surf the Web; that can be an energy drain, Fritz notes, because it's an activity we tend to do "when we're already tired. We procrastinate." It's not necessary to stop thinking about work to feel refreshed. Even if you simply leave your desk to ask a colleague for feedback on a project, you can get a mental boost. When we're learning something new, Fritz says, we can experience an increase in "our energy and vitality."

To capitalize on longer breaks, she recommends leaving work completely, perhaps by going shopping or having lunch with a friend. Just don't vent about your job or your boss. Your psyche will benefit most if you focus on the positive.