If you work all day long without taking a break, you risk burnout. With burnout comes mental stress and exhaustion. According to a 2012 press release by Right Management, 39 percent of employees say they usually they eat lunch at their desk and 28 percent say they seldom, if ever, take a lunch break. Taking lunch breaks can boost productivity, but how you use your lunch break plays a significant role as well.
A 2013 article by Donna Farrugia of The Creative Group showed that 37 percent of employees felt they were no more or no less productive when they leave the office for lunch. Also, 24 percent of employees were much more productive, 20 percent were somewhat more productive, 9 percent did not take breaks, 7 percent were less productive and 3 percent fell into the category of “other” or “don’t know.”
You can improve your productivity at work by using your lunch breaks in a way that lets you replenish and refocus your mental energy. You might eat a healthy meal, go for a walk, talk to friends, take a nap, do stretch exercises, visit the gym, play a mentally stimulating game or listen to music. Lunch breaks do not always have to be non-work-related to be beneficial. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Professor Charlotte Fritz said studies are starting to show that if employees use their lunch breaks to reflect favorably upon work, expand their perspectives, gain new knowledge or just to unwind, it leads to a greater attention rate immediately after lunch, and in some cases, when they leave work.
Under federal law, your employer doesn’t have to give you lunch breaks, but state law might require it. Many employers give lunch breaks even if state law doesn’t say to. If your employer chooses to give lunch breaks or state law says to, the time is typically unpaid. If your employer says you must work during your lunch break, it must pay you for the time. If the state mandates lunch breaks, your employer cannot discourage you from or coerce you into not taking a lunch break.
Rest breaks are different from lunch breaks. Rest breaks usually last between five and 20 minutes and lunch breaks generally last at least 30 minutes. Rest periods are usually given more often than lunch breaks and can help boost productivity as well. To recoup from the monotony or stress of your work, you might take short breaks away from your workstation. Some states make paid rest breaks mandatory. Note, however, that some experts don't endorse taking short breaks. According Fritz, her research revealed that short breaks, such as going to the restroom or getting water, generally don't re-energize you. An exception would be if you do something that's connected to work and positive, like learning a new task or complimenting a coworker.
- New York Times: To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break
- CNN: Why Taking Lunch Makes You a Better Employee
- Right Management: Just One-in-Five Employees Take Actual Lunch Break
- Harvard Business Review: Coffee Breaks Don't Boost Productivity After All
- California Department of Industrial Relations: Meal Periods
- U.S. Department of Labor: Breaks and Meal Periods
- U.S. Department of Labor: Minimum Paid Rest Period Requirements Under State Law for Adult Employees in Private Sector - January 1, 2010
- Inhowse Designer: Take Back Your Lunch Break
Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.