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Sincerely Stefanie: What's for Lunch?

High worker engagement, productivity and a safe workplace are tied to lunch breaks.

By the time 10 a.m. rolls around each day, I’m already thinking about lunch. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day. Sometimes I pack a meal, but I enjoy discussing my meal options with my coworkers and spending time with them.

Sometimes I eat at my desk, but when the weather is nice I enjoy finding a place outside to eat. Occasionally, I will eat at my desk in anticipation of taking a break to take a brief walk with my coworkers.

Every time I take the time to leave my desk around noon, I notice a difference in my production the following afternoon. I feel energized, more awake and the day seems to wind down faster.

A new survey from napkin and paper towel manufacturer Tork reveals that U.S. workers are reluctant to take lunch breaks, and this is contributing to lower employee engagement, productivity and job satisfaction.

The results are concerning and show how stress and workload contribute to worker health. While 90% of employees consider the hour-long lunch break “critical” when accepting a new position, more than half of U.S. workers spend less than 30 minutes on a lunch break.

“Reluctance to take a lunch break is often perceived as a display of dedication to the job,” says Jennifer Deal, senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and affiliated research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at University of Southern California (USC). “In reality, taking time away for a lunch break can help to reduce stress, increase engagement and restore energy levels, making employees feel more effective and productive back at the office.”

This perceived dedication to the job is doing more harm than good, leading to a disconnect between management and workers. According to the study, employees were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, work at the same company and recommend the employer to others. But, what’s causing the discrepancy is something that is simple to fix: communication.

Workers feel judged, stressed and anxious about how they are perceived when they take lunch breaks, according to Tork. In fact, the survey found:

  • 34% of bosses consider how often an employee takes a lunch break when evaluating their job performance.
  • 22% of bosses think that employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking.
  • 13% of U.S. workers think their coworkers would judge them negatively if they take a regular lunch break.
  • 88% of bosses think their workers would say they are encouraged to take a regular lunch break, but only 62% of workers actually feel encouraged.

Don Lewis, president of Professional Hygiene at Essity, a Tork brand, echoes the importance of taking breaks.

“This simple act of taking a full lunch break can improve how employees feel about their work and their company,” he says. “The study reveals something managers and companies can start doing tomorrow to make a positive impact on employee engagement.”

Lastly, from a safety standpoint, encouraging workers to take a lunch break to refuel and clear their minds could lead to fewer near-misses or injuries.

So, if taking lunch breaks benefit workers from both a mental and physical standpoint, why not change the way this routine is perceived? Instead of wondering if you’ll be able to take a break, instead ask: what’s for lunch?

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