I Like—and Need—My Lunch Breaks, but My Colleagues Don’t


Q: I work on a small team of five people. Lately, it seems like nobody’s taking their lunch break. If anything, they’ll eat their lunch at their cubicles while answering emails and working on assignments. I try to live a healthy lifestyle and I want to take my lunch breaks without other team members judging me. What’s the best way to take my lunch breaks and not be looked down upon by my colleagues?

Working through lunch is sometimes a must; deadlines, colleagues out sick, you’ve just returned from vacation and work has piled up, etc. But unless it’s reasons such as meeting a deadline for a project or there’s no one to cover the phones, then I would encourage you to take a lunch break on a regular basis. Peer pressure to conform may not be the winning strategy for your work productivity either. People need breaks to recharge and perform at their best.

Take a look at some of my strategies below:

Take a Lead From the Europeans

During my career in Wall Street, I worked with many European nationals. The firms were global and employed people from around the world. It became quite noticeable at lunch how many Europeans routinely left the office to enjoy their lunch away from their desk, while many other nationalities, particularly the Americans, stayed at their desk working through the lunch hour. It was never a reflection on a lack of dedication to their job or hard work; my European colleagues were very hard working. But it’s as though they knew how to enjoy life; they knew about work/life balance and there was never any guilt or question about what other people think. It was simply lunchtime and they were going to lunch. From a cultural perspective, many couldn’t understand why people didn’t take a lunch break to recharge.

The Art of Appearing Busier Than You Are

It’s a rare few people I’ve met who are able to stay focused on work day in, day out, and do nothing but productive, meaningful work where they produce results without taking a break. If they’re in cubicles, are you sure they aren’t surfing the Web or catching up on Facebook replies from their smartphones during their lunch? Perhaps doing some errands like paying bills online or making some quick phone calls home?

All too often, I think a lot of people look as though they’re busier and more productive than they really are. Human beings need to take a break and recharge on a regular basis. You may be able to work through lunch at a fast pace for short periods of time, but after a while it becomes counterproductive, where work ends up taking longer to complete than it would have if you were rested.

Ask a Colleague Out to Lunch

If you really feel uncomfortable about leaving the desk at lunchtime, then ask one of your colleagues to join you. It’s a great way of getting to know your fellow team members and it helps with productivity and teamwork on the job. Getting to know your colleagues is always a plus. And if it’s a small team, perhaps recommend a roster so that everyone goes to lunch one-on-one with another team member. It may work out to be really productive, fostering closer working relationships.

Standing in Your Power

Maybe your colleagues want to take a lunch break, but are also concerned about being judged for slacking off. I’m curious to know what’s happened recently for the change in their behavior around not leaving their desk for a break. Is there a change in management, are they trying to make a good impression or are they afraid to lose their job?

Regardless, if you’re clear in your mind why you’re taking your lunch break and you complete your work on time, then your self-honoring choice of wanting to live a healthy lifestyle may catch on—it could be the “permission” your colleagues need to make their own self-honoring decision and leave their desk for lunch.

Let me know what you think. Feel free to contact me at julieann@tathemllc.com.