Eating lunch at your desk is a bad idea. It's worse if you skip your lunch break entirely.
Americans are bad at taking lunch breaks. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. workers say they only occasionally, rarely, or never take breaks during the workday, and 22 percent of people feel guilty or judged when they step away from work midday, according to a 2021 survey conducted by workplace hygiene supply brand Tork.
As the boundaries between work and personal life are becoming increasingly blurred during the pandemic, employees likely need a midday break to recharge more than ever. The Tork report also points out that 91 percent of employees and 93 percent of bosses agree or strongly agree that taking a break is an important part of maintaining their mental focus. More than 90 percent of employees say they are more likely to stay at a company where bosses encourage their employees to take a break.
"Somehow, during the pandemic, it became OK to start the workday at an hour that was normally [reserved for] getting ready for or commuting to work and taking a full lunch break while home felt wrong," Kathy Cullen-Cote, chief people officer at San Diego-based software company Teradata, tells Inc. "We have encouraged and empowered our employees to be deliberate with their time and to block their calendars for lunch and to take that time to step away; eat, go for a walk, or do whatever feels best for them."
If you are still eating at your desk, here are some ways to help make taking a lunch break a habit:
1. Start small
For some employees, stepping away from work seems daunting and daring. You don't need to take a whole hour off when you first start to take a lunch break.
"Experiment with a five-minute micro-break and step away from the computer and mindfully eat something nourishing like a piece of fruit. Do that every day for a week, note how it feels, and build from there," Renee Cullinan, CEO of a San Francisco-based consultancy that focuses on wellness, the Dandelion Project, tells Inc.
2. Invite others
It's easy to let lunch slip if you're eating alone. But the second you have another party on hand, your obligation to stepping away expands. Doing so can help you cement your commitment to lunch. Think of this, too, as a time to network with colleagues or some business leaders in your area.
Letslunch is a free social network that helps you to match up with someone in your area during weekdays' lunch hour.
The site's algorithm matches you up with a like-minded lunch partner, based on your LinkedIn profile, availability, and geographic flexibility. This is an efficient way to grow your network by utilizing the time that's already built into your day.
3. Just recharge
"The ideal lunch break is the one tailored to your preferences and circumstances," says Cullinan.
You don't need to schedule your lunch break at noon. Even, you don't need to have a meal during your one-hour break time, as long as you feel recharged after the break. Start by asking yourself: when do you want to take a break and what do you want to do?
Cullinan advises employees to think about a good place to take a break.
"It could be your living room, the cafeteria, or a quick walk around the block -- just not your computer. Ask yourself if you prefer to bring something or get a quick bite out? Am I more [energized] by social contact or a few minutes of solitude?"