It's noon on a weekday. Do you know where your co-workers are?
Chances are they're still sitting at their desks – just like you're sitting at yours – doing something similar to what you're doing: pausing between sandwich bites to answer another email and meet another deadline. A number of surveys uncover disturbing trends in the way we choose to spend lunch time at work – with hefty workloads and the pressure to do more with less time being the chief reasons. In 2010, the job search website Monster found that more than 20 percent of workers say they always eat lunch at their desks. This year, CareerBuilder found that 8 percent of more than 3,600 full-time employees grab lunch from out of the breakroom vending machine at least once a week.
The most damning finds are from a 2012 study by Right Management, a talent and career management division of ManpowerGroup, a human resources consulting firm. The study found 28 percent of the more than 1,000 North American employees polled rarely take a lunch break, 14 percent choose to do so from "time to time" and 39 percent break for lunch but stay at their desks. "This is yet another warning sign of the stress experienced by workers in the U.S. and Canada," says Michael Haid, executive vice president for talent management for Right Management. "Of course, they may have lunch, but it doesn't constitute a real break from work as they must also monitor the phone and email or do any number of other work-related tasks while eating."
In reality, working through lunch may be counter-productive. Lunch breaks are good for your physical and mental health – not to mention your company's bottom line. Right Management points out that staying at your desk all day leads to higher levels of stress and poorer productivity. "More organizations are shifting into new employment models made possible by technology, and workers are adapting," Haid says. "But taking a break during the workday is still beneficial. Employees should use the time to refresh and re-energize, even if it means eating at their desk and then taking a walk just to get outside of their immediate work environment." Use your lunch break to indulge in simple recreation, like reading, chatting on the phone or taking a fitness class, or utilize the free time to attend a professional development class, lunch with a professional mentor or go on a job interview.
Employers should take some responsibility for shifting in-office lunchtime habits, Haid says, by encouraging breaks and monitoring the break-time habits of staff. Bosses "need to understand the early warning signals that overworked employees and impossible work load demands are creating," Haid explains. However, the brunt of responsibility lies with employees. Be realistic about what you may accomplish each workday and set attainable goals.
It's also important to manage your stamina. The Energy Project, a firm dedicated to helping organizations and companies build a workforce, devised a 20-question online self-assessment to audit your four sources of energy – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The quiz asks questions about work attitudes, lunchtime habits, exercise and vacation time. Visit http://www.theenergyproject.com/tools/the-energy-audit#step1 to take the quiz and receive your results.