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The workplace lunch break isn’t much of a break for more than one-third of workers, according to a new survey that suggests that performance and productivity pressures are prompting those employees to eat at their desk.
The findings are from an online poll from Right Management, a subsidiary of Manpower Group, of 750 North American workers conducted in July and August 2011.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and ConAgra Foods' Home Food Safety program conducted a similar survey in April 2011 with 2,191 full-time U.S. employees who work at a desk. It found 52 percent bring lunch from home and eat at their desks; 27 percent purchase their food from a restaurant or cafeteria and bring it back to their desk.
Workers between the ages of 18 and 24 eat at their desk the most; in this group, 37 percent eat breakfast at their desk, 70 percent eat lunch at their desk and 10 percent eat dinner at their desk.
Saving time and money is the main reason workers eat at their desk, cited by nearly half of those the ADA and ConAgra Foods surveyed.
“Lunch patterns allow us to infer a few things about the North American workplace,” said Right Management’s Senior Vice President of Talent Management Michael Haid in a news release.
“This pressure is showing up in various ways,” he said, such as the 34 percent of employees who say they are very likely to take lunch while sitting at their computer, and with supervisors and colleagues.
“Employees may feel they have to apologize for stepping out, but in the long run this kind of company culture does not help improve performance or engagement.”
In addition, Right Management found in its poll:
It’s not like taking a lunch break is required. Federal law does not mandate that an employer provide lunch or coffee breaks, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which notes on its website that a lunch break typically is at least 30 minutes and the time taken for that purpose is not compensable.
“Sure, workers may feel devoted to their work, which is fine,” Haid said, “but given the level of stress in today’s workplace, I wonder if the reluctance to take a break is an expression of devotion or a negative consequence of the unrelenting pressure some organizations are exerting on their workforces to get more done with fewer resources. Taking time away from one’s desk for lunch would help reduce tension and boost energy. “But our research results might lead us to ask is that still a real option for people now?”
Connection to Weight Gain
A 2010 survey by CareerBuilder that SHRM Online reported on suggested sitting at a desk all day is a factor in weight gain, and research released in 2010 from the University of Bristol in the U.K. found that eating while playing a computer game or working through lunch could increase a person’s food intake later in the day because of the role memory and distraction play.
“We’ve certainly come a long way from the three-martini lunch of a generation ago,” Haid observed. “But we have to question if we’ve gone too far in the other direction.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.
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