Despite the influence of Mad Men, it's likely no one in your office enjoyed a leisurely three-martini lunch today. In fact, less than 20% of your workers take a lunch break at all, according to a new survey.
Right Management, the workforce consulting arm of ManpowerGroup, polled 1,023 North American workers and asked, "Do you regularly take a lunch break?" Turns out 39% of employees said they eat lunch at their desks, and 14% only pause for lunch (even at their desk) from time to time. A remarkable 28% reported they seldom if ever take any kind of break at all.
Part of the problem, suggest experts, is the sheer volume of work expected from employees in today's economy. To simply keep up mounting demands on their time, many workers have opted to skip the break altogether and carry on getting things done. In many cases, corporate culture reinforces this no-break philosophy, making stepping out for a midday breather seem like an act of professional rebellion.
"One has to ask if such pressure without any let-up actually benefits the individual or the organization," says Michael Haid, senior-vice president for Talent Management at Philadelphia-based Right Management. "Does it really improve performance? What are the longer-term consequences for employee health and engagement?"
A 2001 study by the Families and Work Institute suggests the consequences for both employers and workers are costly. Along with a negative impact on attitude, behaviour and health, the report found overworked employees were more likely to experience reduced engagement at work, resulting in poorer performance and a dip in productivity.
Further support for this comes from a recent University of Toronto study found that employees who took a lunch break outside of work experienced increased productivity and work satisfaction. And Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic told the New York Times we don't take enough breaks during the day. Rather than our common head-down approach to a non-stop 10- or 12-hour workday, he suggests intense 15-minute bursts of productivity punctuated by regular breaks. "The thought process is not designed to be continuous," he said.
"Managers should keep in mind there are limits to what employees can reasonably handle," says Haig. And as Levine told the Times, "Long hours don't mean good work—highly efficient, productive work is more valuable."
For many employers, it may take closing your doors at noon to ensure this happens.