We Can't Kick the Working Lunch Habit

Eating lunch at your desk is one thing, but eating spaghetti? You know that's not going to turn out well. (Photo: semarr [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

When was the last time you went out with your co-workers or a client and had a relaxing lunch? If you're like the majority of workers today, you probably can't remember when you last had a real lunch break.

That's a problem — and it's getting worse.

According to a new survey from Tork, millennials are three times as likely as baby boomers to worry that they'll be judged for taking a real lunch break. This generation — which makes up roughly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce now and is expected to grow to 75 percent by 2030 — wants to take a break yet they still feel the pressure not to, as the survey statistics show:

  • 62 percent of millennials would opt for a longer or more regular lunch break if possible, compared to 46 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • 44 percent of millennials strongly agree that they look forward to taking a lunch break, compared to 36 percent of Gen X employees.
  • 16 percent of millennials would take a pay cut of 10 percent so they could take a lunch break every day, which is nearly double the percentage of Gen X employees and more than three times the percentage of Baby Boomers.

A bad habit that just keeps on getting worse

The traditional lunch break became "working lunch" many years ago, at least according to a 2012 survey. The survey asked 1,023 North American workers if they regularly took a break for lunch.

Here's how their answers broke down:

  • 19%: Yes, almost always
  • 39%: Yes, but usually stay at my desk
  • 14%: Only from time to time
  • 28%: Seldom, if ever

What I find most interesting about this is that the working lunch appears to cover all levels of employees, from the entry-level worker to the head honcho. Everyone is busier and so the out-of-your-office, relaxing and ultimately rejuvenating lunch break that I remember taking when I last worked in an office is fading into oblivion.

While I can appreciate the viewpoint that today's workers are trying to be more productive, I don't think this is an entirely correct characterization of the situation. Productivity improves when employees take breaks and get out of the office, even if only for a short period of time. (So if you can't take a break to eat, at least take a break for a walk.)

I fear that the working lunch will continue to be the norm, leading to less productive employees and possibly even burnout. I'm all for working hard and loving what you do, but part of succeeding in business, at least in my opinion, is knowing when to step back and take a deep breath — both literally and figuratively speaking.