Suzanne Lucas

Are Your Employees Taking Lunch Breaks? Here’s Why They Should

The harder your employees work, the better, right? Not quite. Breaks at work, from regular lunch hours to informal opportunities for socializing, are essential for your employees to reach their full performance potential. Here’s why.

The Importance of Lunch Breaks for Employees

First, your brain needs a breather. We all understand that if people do physical labor, their bodies need to rest and recover. So why should we assume our brains can keep going all the time? They can’t. Your brain could use a break, and stepping away from your desk can actually make you more productive in the long run. What you do during lunch — besides eating — isn’t as important as taking a break from the daily grind.

But eating itself is also important, and if employees don’t have time for lunch, they’re likely to turn to the vending machine or the fast food restaurant across the street, two less-than-ideal choices.

How to Encourage Good Lunches

You’re a business owner, not your employees’ parent, so you can’t really tell people what to eat or criticize them if they make bad choices. You can, however, set the stage for healthy fare. Consider the following ideas:

  • Have healthy catered lunches. You don’t need to provide lunch every day or every week to make this a good step. When you do have lunch brought in, make sure it’s got a good mix of proteins and high-nutrition food. Pizza, while it’s a classic, isn’t a healthy office lunch.
  • Replace sugary treats with fruit. Simply put, people will eat what’s there. If there are boxes of doughnuts in the break room, people will eat those. If there’s a bowl of fruit, people will grab a banana.
  • Incorporate healthy lunches into your wellness program. Wellness programs can offer a good return on investment if they’re done right. Read up on strategies for encouraging employees to eat healthy and how it can be part of your program. Remember, your goal isn’t necessarily weight loss — it’s healthy eating.
  • Make sure people have enough time for lunch. If you’re scheduling meetings that run until 12:15 and start back up at 12:30, your employees don’t have time for a real lunch. Prioritize their ability to take a break and eat. Block out time for lunch on your own calendar and encourage others to do the same.
  • For a fun team-building activity, bring in a chef or a good cook to teach you how to make something delicious and nutritious.

What About Lunch With Co-Workers?

Sometimes people want to use their lunch breaks to run errands or just get out of the office. After all, many people spend more time with their co-workers than with their families. But promoting lunches with co-workers can also be a healthy way to do things. If a few people start bringing in healthy food or picking up healthy meals from the deli down the street, you could start a trend.

And eating together can build a bond that leads to better teamwork. As the researchers behind one study note, “From an evolutionary anthropology perspective, eating together has a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue. That seems to continue in today’s workplaces.” If you don’t already have a space where your employees eat together, it might be time to invest in one — or to invest in making the one you do have a place where employees want to gather.

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Don’t Forget to Follow the Law

Federal law doesn’t require any lunch breaks for office workers, but your state or local laws may require hourly paid employees to take 30 minutes off every day. Your employees are not allowed to work while they’re off the clock, even if they’re volunteering their time. Even if your state doesn’t require breaks, if your employees take a lunch break and are clocked out for it, they can’t do any work. Period.

Setting a good standard and making your office an environment where healthy eating and healthy behavior is the norm can have a happy impact not only on your health care costs but on office morale. And if you yourself aren’t setting a good example when it comes to taking breaks at work, now is a great time to start.

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