Lunch Break: With Whom, Where, How and for How Long Should You Have Lunch?

Lunch Break: With Whom, Where, How and for How Long Should You Have Lunch?

Sukurta: 01 August 2022

valgo biureThere is no doubt that rest is necessary to achieve good work results. In addition to the most commonly discussed opportunities for rest after work, it is worth remembering and talking about another form of rest and energy recovery – lunch breaks at work.

The purpose of the lunch break is to restore resources used for work, and this is best done by psychological detachment from matters related to work. The results of the research unequivocally state that the less we think about work during the lunch break, the more energy we have both immediately after it and at the end of the working day.

What activities are better to engage in during lunch?

In an experimental study by Finnish scientists published a few years ago, three groups of workers engaged in intensive mental work were compared. One group of employees took a 15-minute lunch break for a walk in the park, the second group performed relaxation exercises, and the third group spent their lunch break as usual. After the ten-day experiment, the results showed that both those who walked in the park and those who did relaxation exercises felt less tension compared to the time before they participated in the experiment.

Walking in the park significantly reduced fatigue immediately after the lunch break, increased concentration, and gave more satisfaction than relaxation exercises, but both activities helped to rest. As you can imagine, the effect was quite short-lived, i.e. relaxation was increased only on that working day.

In a similar experiment, other Finnish researchers found that both walking in the park and relaxation exercises reduced blood pressure, although levels of the stress hormone cortisol remained unchanged. It is true that if you decide to engage in the mentioned activities during your lunch breaks, you should be prepared for the fact that long-term positive effects may have to wait, and in the short term, the tension may even increase, as you will have to plan your breaks differently and, given the limited break time, you may even have to change your eating habits, learn relaxation exercises, which will require additional effort. In any case, scientists suggest starting to take walks in early autumn, when the weather is still warm and time spent outside is pleasant.

To answer the question of what is the best activity to engage in during a lunch break, Canadian researchers compared the rest and recovery of those who engage in relaxing activities, socialise with others, or use their lunch break to catch up on unfinished business. The results were exactly what the researchers expected – those who used the break to relax felt the least tired at the end of the working day; while those who interacted with customers or colleagues, or dealt with work issues, further increased their daytime fatigue. However, this effect was valid only under one condition – communicating with others or completing tasks during the lunch break only bothered those who did it against their will. As well as the lack of opportunity to relax, it was even more stressful for those who did not have the opportunity to choose.

In other words, how much we recover during the break depends not only on what we do specifically, but also on how free we feel to choose the activity. A similar result was obtained by German scientists in their research, who found that breaks that meet personal needs and desires create the best emotions and are the most relaxing. However, this effect did not apply to those with chronic fatigue. Thus, lunch break is better able to be used by those who have energy resources, but in case of severe exhaustion, lunch break will unfortunately not help to regain strength.

Is it worth exercising during lunch break?

In a recent paper, Dutch researchers followed 59 workers over several days as they spent their lunch break exercising. Immediately after the lunch break, the research participants were asked how satisfied they were with their sports activities, whether and how intensely they thought about what made them happy at work and their achievements in it, and how mentally and emotionally energetic they felt, while at the end of the working day they were asked to rate their level of creativity for that day.

The results of the research revealed that employees who were satisfied with their physical activity during the lunch break and who thought about the positive aspects of their work immediately after it could focus more easily on work and maintain attention, show empathy to colleagues and customers, and were more creative during the rest of the working day. Therefore, the researchers suggest that during the lunch break, sports can be done in a way that matches the physical abilities and provides satisfaction, and that organisations should seriously consider providing opportunities for employees to participate in sports activities both in and outside the office.

Does it matter who you spend your lunch break with?

The researchers observed 71 administrative workers every day for a week. The more they forgot about work during the break, the more energetic they felt immediately after it, but not at the end of the working day. In cases where employees had lunch with their direct supervisors, and only talked about work during lunch, they felt more inspired and had more energy to perform their work immediately after the lunch break, but felt more tired at the end of the working day.

Meanwhile, taking a lunch break with colleagues had a positive effect on energy at the end of the working day, although energy levels decreased immediately after lunch, this depended on the content of the conversations. The more time spent on non-work-related personal conversations, the more engaged employees felt for the rest of the day. The researchers concluded that having lunch with colleagues or a supervisor prevented psychological detachment from work matters because they talked about work matters. Of course, it is important to emphasise that lunch with a supervisor can have other benefits as well. The conversation with the supervisor and the supervisor's time with the worker is likely to show recognition and inspire better performance, as evidenced by increased levels of activity and willingness to work immediately after the break.

Is the effect of the lunch break short-term?

Finnish and German researchers tracked the effects of a break on emotional exhaustion and energy in nearly 900 workers over a one-year period and found that the longer, more regular lunch breaks were, and the more often they were taken outside the office, the more energetic and less exhausted the workers felt after one year.

Truth be told, the effect was quite small, but significant. Contrary to expectations, taking lunch breaks with other people had no positive effect. But the most important result of this research lies in the answer to the question of what kind of lunch breaks are best. The answer: those that help you take a break from work and recover your strength.

 Lunch break is an important source of relaxation!
 Take regular, albeit shorter, lunch breaks
 Avoid having lunch at the office if you can
 Avoid talking about work during your lunch break
 Go for a walk if the weather is nice
 Exercise according to your physical capabilities
 Do what pleases you and helps you relax.

Author: Head of the Centre of Organisational Psychology Research of the Faculty of Philosophy, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Jurgita Lazauskaitė-Zabielskė