I once had a client who was upset with me about not being able to get a counselling appointment sooner. She rejected every attempt I made to gain her trust. My apologies rang hollow and nothing would persuade her to open up to me. After sitting in silence for what seemed like an eternity, I said something that finally got through to her.
“I can’t wait for lunch.”
This is not what counsellors have in mind when they use immediacy to share their impressions about a client or the therapeutic interaction. My candid disclosure about longing for lunch was probably the first thing that came across as truthful and genuine. This ill-named lunch hour, I so yearned for, had slowly dwindled to a mere 17 minutes during which I would steal away to my windowless office, seeking respite from rambling watercooler chats and the drudgery of administrative tasks.
Taking time for lunch
Research suggests that I am not alone in my anxiety about lunch. According to an OfficeTeam survey, 56 percent of workers carve out 30 minutes or less for their lunch break. Rather than eating, some workers spend their time on email or social media. Others prefer to socialize with colleagues or use the time for exercising, running errands, or catching up on work. Those who actually eat during lunch are faced with the inevitable question “Do I eat out or bring my lunch from home?” This all depends, of course, on the culture of the workplace and one’s food budget.
A survey taken by Visa found that Americans spend roughly $53 per week on lunch which includes both takeout meals and homemade lunches. In some workplaces, lunch may be an opportunity for networking. Thus, eating out at a restaurant could be the norm. Other workplaces prioritize efficiency, prompting workers to join the ranks of eating at their desk.
For employees who opt for a brownbag lunch, the dilemma does not end there. The brownbag itself will no longer do. Some workplaces promote a no-waste environment replete with a compost bin for organic waste, and a full complement of dishware and cutlery in an effort to discourage the consumption of single-use plastics. Reusable lunch boxes are not just for kids. Workers can choose from a colourful array of stylish bento boxes and insulated lunch bags.
Adapting to workplace norms
Other considerations include the nutritional quality of the food. The convenience of a deli sandwich may not withstand the desire for healthier options with greens and legumes. Much like in the case of its nutritional value, the smell of food must also fall in line with the norms and customs of the workplace. The aroma of food must not be overpowering from the time that is being heated in the communal microwave to its consumption in what are often close quarters.
Judging others for taking a break
Perhaps, what may be lost in these details is the need for a lunch break. Why then are workers so reluctant to take time for lunch? A survey by Tork sheds some light on this issue, reporting that “22 percent of bosses think that employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking.” On the other side, among workers, 13 percent believe that they would be judged negatively by their coworkers if they were to take a regular lunch break.
Combatting the afternoon slump
Despite workers’ reservations, lunch appears to be a necessity. The results of a diary study suggest that lunch has a revitalizing effect upon workers, decreasing afternoon fatigue and increasing engagement in work. The study concluded that workers experience enhanced well-being when they can decide how to spend their lunch and when they have opportunities to relax and socialize with colleagues.
Hitting the reset button
Back to the opening story—two points can be made. Firstly, conflict is unavoidable in the workplace whether it’s between colleagues or between employees and clients. Secondly, lunch may be a time for keeping up outward appearances of a healthy and balanced lifestyle or a means of climbing the ladder of corporate success. Whether sitting at their desk or venturing away from the office, workers can use their lunch break as a kind of reset button to get through the rest of the day. So let’s have our lunch and eat it too!