Out for lunch
Fairlady|May 2020
Having your lunch ‘al desko’ – again? You are not alone. Most of us don’t take our lunch break, or any breaks during the day for that matter, bar a quick dash to the loo. Here’s why you need to change that.
LIESL ROBERTSON

THE LONG-LOST LUNCH BREAK

It’s 1pm on a Wednesday – where are you right now? Sitting on a park bench, enjoying the sunshine? Or eating out of Tupperware at your desk again? According to a 2018 survey by job search website CareerJunction, only a third of South Africans take a lunch break – despite the fact that 55% of the people surveyed had 60 minutes a day for lunch. In fact, only 5% use their full hour; the average time SA employees take for lunch is 24,5 minutes.

The vast majority (67%) eat at their desk while they work – or browse the internet for a few minutes. A fifth skip lunch altogether, and 35% felt they were chained to their desks – they only ever get up to go to the bathroom.

Why are we so averse to grabbing a sandwich and eating it outside? It may have something to do with workload: 73% said they have too much work to do, or that something urgent often comes up. Then again, it could also be peer pressure: 19% admitted that they feel pressured not to take a lunch break.

This echoes the findings of a US survey called ‘Take Back the Lunch Break’ – according to their numbers, nearly 20% of US employees don’t take lunch breaks because they’re concerned that their bosses won’t see them as hardworking; 13% feel judged by their colleagues.

‘This probably explains the side-eye I get from colleagues when I shut my laptop at noon,’ writes Man Repeller staffer Jennifer Epperson, who makes a point of taking a lunch break every day. ‘Even if they would like to join me, breaking the social contract of abstaining from selfcare during work hours is perceived as risky.’

She is often the only person in the office who stops working altogether and leaves the office midday. ‘And this has been the case at every office I have worked in for the past 10 years,’ she says.

‘There’s just this demand to be forever available,’ says Professor Kimberly Elsbach. She works at the University of California’s Davis Graduate School of Management and recently took part in a broadcasted discussion on this very topic. ‘People are reluctant to leave their desk in case they miss something, and so people are eating at their desk – if they’re eating at all – and are just there for longer periods.’

Those few minutes a day add up. Using this information, CareerJunction did the maths and made a pretty profound discovery: the average Saffer spends a total of 2,2 years working overtime because they are not taking a lunch break.

WE WERE ON A BREAK

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