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Stressed-out workers are skipping lunch–and forgoing their only chance to tame the chaos

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Research has shown that taking lunch breaks can greatly impact your overall happiness and productivity at work. The problem is when things get frantic, many people (myself included) end up putting lunch last on their priority list. In fact, skipping a lunch break is a growing problem according to a 2023 survey from ezCater, which found that workers were 40% more likely to say they never stop for a midday meal than they were the previous year.

Whether it’s the pressure-filled pace of the workday or feeling like a slacker for taking a break, many of us have fallen into the trap of trying to power through without lunch. But here’s what I know: When I do manage to get time away from my desk to eat, I feel so energized–and, often, I end up doing my best work afterward.

What’s eating today’s workers?

Too many meetings, not enough time in the day, and wanting to sign off my computer earlier are all excuses I’ve made in the past to justify skipping lunch. And according to the lunchtime habits survey, I’m not alone: 48% of respondents say they skip lunch at least once a week.

It also turns out that even among the 29% of office workers who block out time on their calendars for a lunch break, 62% say they usually don’t end up using that time for a meal. (Guilty as charged.) But no more. I’ve committed to giving this meal the space in my life it deserves and following those calendar cues so that it becomes part of my daily habits.

Lunch as a worthwhile personal investment

According to Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report, 57% of U.S. and Canadian workers reported feeling stress on a daily basis in 2022, up by eight percentage points from the year prior. 

One contributing factor is likely the chaotic pace of the day–which is why simply taking a break away from it all can help. Here’s what the research says:

  • In a survey by Slack, people who take breaks reported 13% higher productivity than those who don’t.
  • Canadian researchers found that taking work breaks can boost performance and well-being.
  • Recent research out of Germany determined that longer meal breaks, in particular, helped employees feel less exhausted.
  • More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents in the ezCater survey also correlate taking lunch breaks with improved job performance.

How I’m making lunch happen

Here’s what I’m doing to make sure my workday well-being, including taking a lunch break, remains a top priority:

  • Enlisted accountability partners. I’ve asked my team at work to join me in this goal so I’m not going it alone.
  • Scheduled a 60-minute “no meeting” lunch break every day to prioritize mental health and physical well-being. When my calendar notification reminds me that it’s time to break, I’m learning to treat it as I would any other calendar item: I give it my full attention.
  • Turned lunch into a leadership lesson. Not only am I eating for myself, but I’m sending a clear message to my team that taking lunch breaks is about prioritizing personal wellness so we can perform at our highest level.
  • Sprinkled in some group meal breaks. Having lunch with my colleagues is my favorite part of the day when I’m in the office. Just the act of sitting together, discussing a tough project, or celebrating an achievement can help cultivate camaraderie.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hour-to-hour grind when it comes to our jobs. But once you recognize the clear correlation between prioritizing your health and your happiness at work, you’ll see that even small changes can lead to a better outlook and successful outcomes.

Diane Swint is the Chief Revenue Officer at ezCater.

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