Lunch break & well-being at work
Dr. Chrysavgi Sklaveniti
5 min read
19 September 2022
Why the lunch break boosts well-being at work – And 5 ideas for better lunch break management
“A positive management of the lunch-break is a fundamental field for employers to boost workers’ perception of wellbeing at work” (Corvo et al., 2020: 1071).
How significant would you think that your lunch break is? Typically, the lunch break is not viewed as a priority. It is just that – a break. Even more, when work gets busy, people don’t think twice about working through their lunch break, treating it as a cancelled luxury for which there is no time. Whether having a quick snack while typing in front of the computer, or skipping lunch completely, working through the lunch break is a trap employees may easily fall into. However, the research “Eating at Work” (2020) sees the daily lunch break as critical to employees’ wellbeing. This is because the lunch break not only covers nutritional needs, but also has benefits such as increased work productivity and socialising in the workplace.
To inspire employers to reinforce the culture of the lunch break, in this article I encourage two work practices for taking specific actions to improve a midday rest, and I propose five strategies for better lunch break management.
Make the lunch break visible
Impactful action towards establishing the lunch break as vital to everyday work life is actually very simple. Make the lunch break visible! A lunch break is not about just the meal itself - it’s a time to pause work, step away from it, and take a break. Just the act of taking a break sends message to the whole organisation that a midday pause is protected, thereby empowering employees to endorse the practice of the lunch break, regardless of how hectic work may appear at certain times. Such a visible stance furthermore eliminates the possibility of burnouts and mitigates stress at work.
Plan the lunch break & unplug
While planning is a basic work principle, the lunch break is often left to chance. Because work circumstances may get in the way, it is a good practice to schedule work around the lunch break. In fact, scheduling breaks fosters creativity (Lu et al., 2017) and re-orientates attention towards the second half of the day.
To emphasise the connection between a positive lunch break experience and increased work performance, I will now turn attention to what’s done during the lunch break: the meal consumed, the place and atmosphere, and the socialising. To achieve better lunch break management, I suggest orienting oneself around the following propositions.
1. Eat mindfully
While thinking about food may seem straightforward in a discussion about lunch breaks, it is actually the creation of an everyday ritual which makes the lunch time experience a positive one. Whether at the company restaurant, or at home, it is worth dedicating time to savouring lunch and elevating it to an experience of the senses. Make time for appreciating the meal, tasting the ingredients and enjoying the flavours. Connect with your preferences, and experiment with different possibilities. The abundance of choice – from a humble sandwich to a new culinary experience – will make you excited for your lunch break and will at the same time set the scene for creativity by improvising on a daily ritual which embodies an expression of the self.
2. Get social
60% of the interviewees at the “Eating at Work” (2020) research noted that sharing lunch with colleagues contributes to team building. Lunching together affords the possibility to get to know others outside a purely work context and sets the foundations for building relationships, thereby improving collaboration and teamwork. Making connections to colleagues starts by interacting informally and develops further by sharing interesting conversations or a laugh, while distancing the mind from work. When working at the office location, socialising during the lunch break is facilitated by co-location. When working remotely from home, a degree of creativity needs to be mobilised to create relational – instead of physical – proximity. For example, a video call to share lunch is one way to socialise during the midday break.
3. Get active
The lunch break is a unique opportunity to include activity into the day. Walking, jogging, going to the gym, taking a fitness class, or following an online workout routine are some options to mobilise the production of endorphins into the lunch break routine. Ongoing research (Basso and Suzuki, 2017) links work performance to physical activity and gives inspiration for including it during the lunch break for releasing stress and increasing concentration levels.
4. Go outside
Leaving the workplace and going outside immediately lets you unplug from work, benefitting from the exposure to sunshine and breathing fresh air. Working in rural areas certainly offers more possibilities to connect with nature, however, even staring at the sky or visiting a local park are energising options. Whether in the office or at home, leaving the location where work happens, is an effective lunch break strategy for vitalising both body and mind, and returning to the second half of the workday with a relaxed outlook.
Lunchtime networking is both enjoyable and insightful. Taking a break from the workday and connecting outside the workplace offers the opportunity to get to know potential collaborators on a more personal level. CareerLunch offers such networking opportunities through an automated platform which coordinates an informal lunch between employers and potential talents. With a CareerLunch, networking becomes more meaningful: it involves exchanging perspectives on what working together may look like, and it facilitates a personal connection for understanding who the potential talents are and what their aspirations for their work future are. Hosting a CareerLunch furthermore enhances well-being on another level. Connecting with potential future colleagues motivates the host of a CareerLunch to reflect on one’s own work experiences and raise in the expert position of knowledge and experience sharing.
A positive management of the lunch break boosts experiences of wellbeing at work. Experiment with various options, find the ones that suit your organisation and your style best, and develop lunch break routines that help employees maximise their daily work performance!
Basso JC and Suzuki WA. (2017) The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plast 2(2): 127-152.
Corvo P, Fontefrancesco MF and Matacena R. (2020) Eating at Work: The Role of the Lunch-Break and Canteens for Wellbeing at Work in Europe. Social Indicators Research 150(3): 1043-1076.
Lu JG, Akinola M and Mason M. (2017) To Be More Creative, Schedule Your Breaks. Harvard Business Review.
Dr. Chrysavgi Sklaveniti is an organisational psychologist with expertise in people & organizational development and extensive experience in academic and applied projects. More information about her work can be found here.