Simple indeed, the strategy is all about the rebirth of the plain old, but until recently near-extinct, lunch break.
The new Take Back The Lunch Break scheme is based on the fact that, although international studies have repeatedly shown that a midday break increases your productivity and helps to keep your stress levels down, as many as one in five working adults across the world do not take any time out in the middle of the day. What’s more, says another recent survey, up to 70% of employees eat ‘al desko’ in front of their computers and, by so doing, ignore the body and mind’s natural need for a break.
The experts behind the programme say that issues of workplace health are best addressed through both individual and systematic action. The Take Back The Lunch Break plan is intended to motivate employees to put themselves first and take a break during the day. The new strategy however, also calls for managers to encourage employees to leave their offices and to venture out for lunch for at least 30 minutes in the middle of the day. It advises workers to do anything but sit in front of their computers during the break. They are told to go to lunch with a friend, take a walk or a run, go to gym, find a park bench to sit on in the sunshine, window shop or chat to colleagues away from the office.
The theory supporting the scheme is that, although you may believe that you are achieving more by working through lunch, research on workplace productivity, absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’ (present in body but not in mind) suggest otherwise. It is said to be impossible for anyone to maintain concentration levels over protracted lengths of time and, by ignoring your body and your mind’s need for a break, you put your health at risk. The upshot is that more work is not better work. In fact, the opposite can be true. When you do not take proper breaks, your productivity and focus decrease, and stress levels increase.
The Take Back The Lunch Break strategy also encourages employees to nourish themselves during their lunch breaks. Stress and work-life balance experts remind us that food boosts mental and physical productivity, and regulates moods. Eating can also help fight anxiety, stress and panic, which is particularly helpful if you are having a really bad day. But do not, advise nutritionists, just eat anything within reach. Eat foods that boost brain activity like a tuna fish sandwich on whole-wheat bread, homemade soup or a chicken salad.
The primary objective of the Take Back The Lunch Break campaign is to get people away from their desks so that they can return with clearer heads and an increased ability to focus on the work at hand.
And, given the simplicity of the plan, it might help – when deciding who to spend your lunch break with – to remember the words of Winnie the Pooh, who said, “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “what about lunch?”
(This article was originally published in the Management Review supplement of Business Day as the May 2008 version of my column, If The Hat Fits.)