Lunch Break? What Lunch Break?
Can anything be done about the increasing number of workers who dine at their desk?
Can we meet for a mid-afternoon meal one of these weekdays? More and more, this well-meaning question has to be met with an emphatic “no.” According to an online survey conducted by Right Management (part of big staffing company ManpowerGroup) last year, around 65% of American wage earners habitually or often lunch at their desks or, worse, take no break from work at all.
This rise in “desk lunching” is due to numerous factors. The biggest finger of blame, as with so many other issues in our society, is the current state of the American economy. Although we’ve pulled out of the Great Recession, the recovery has been sluggish. As such, employers have been wary to hire more workers (which is why our unemployment rate is significantly higher than during the pre-recession period).
Because of that, there is less manpower to do the same or a greater amount of work. The end result is a more stressed employee with much less time to perform his or her job. Hence the in-house lunch break … that is, if said employee even has the time to take a break in the first place.
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Labor laws in many states actually prohibit this practice by mandating a certain amount of break time for workers. California, for example, legislates a half-hour of free time on the basis of a work day lasting five hours or more. Further, what it terms “on-duty” meal periods (i.e. desk lunches) are “counted as time worked and permitted only when nature of work prevents relief from all duties and there is written agreement between parties.”
At the moment, however, less than half of all states have such mandates; in the many that don’t, breaks are entirely at the mercy of the employer.
This can be detrimental to psychological and physical health. In terms of psychological well-being, studies consistently show that taking breaks improves general job performance and boosts morale. As for the health aspect, takeout lunches tend to be bigger in terms of portion size, heavier on the calories and less nutritious overall than the homemade variety. And of course, being consistently seated at a desk without even a chance to get minimal exercise (like a walk to the nearest food court, for example) is one of the root causes of poor health.
For the unfortunates rooted to their workstations who don’t have a chance to go out for lunch, experts advise several tricks to ensure that desk lunching won’t be hazardous to their well-being. Firstly, of course, a worker should make sure that what they’re eating has plenty of nutrition and comes in a reasonable portion size. Secondly, particularly after the meal is for the desk luncher to find an opportunity to take a walk, even a small one, to relieve the sedentary nature of their job. Thirdly, studies have shown that the dirtiest bacteria hive in any household or office is, by far, the work desk – so this should be properly disinfected at least once per day, preferably before the meal is set there.
Finally, possibly the most important tip of all – don’t make desk lunching a habit. It’s not a healthy practice, and a worker should never get in the routine of office dining. In other words, if you have to do it, go ahead and do it – but always think about whether there are alternatives.
Or other ways to escape the office, if only for a few moments. Your body and mind will thank you.