The pandemic work-from-home shift sent lunch to the bottom of to-do lists for many newly remote workers. Even though there was access to fresh food in household fridges, priorities changed in the scramble. Stopping to eat lunch was one of them. However, this lunch break dilemma dates back pre-pandemic. In 2019, two-thirds of millennials reported skipping lunch to get ahead.
Some Europeans take long lunches and siestas as well, so why are Americans missing out on one of the three most basic meals of the day—and the mental break that comes with it? Most of the reasons involve getting ahead or thinking that “powering through” leads to continued productivity.
According to The Lunch Report, a survey of 1,000 workers nationwide in April 2022, “78% of workers agree that taking a lunch break away from their desks improves their job performance,” yet “1 in 10 employees never take a break away from their desks—and 70% eat while they work at least once a week.”
Taking lunch breaks—especially while working from home—is essential for productivity. Here’s how to make sure lunch gets the attention it deserves.
Work from home lunch break: make it a policy
The data is clear.Wwe know what’s good for us, but we can’t often be trusted to do it consistently. In some companies, the employee handbook addresses guidelines around taking a lunch. Allyson Conklin, founder of Allyson Conklin Public Relations, oversees a remote team of six, serving around 20 clients at a time. “Our employees are required to take a 60-minute lunch during an eight-plus-hour workday. We invite them to take this at any point during their day—just as long as they take it,” she says.
In her early 20s, Conklin worked in the publishing business in New York City and says she skipped lunch for the next few years. “Part of hustle culture was skipping lunch,” she remembers. Now, she calls herself a “lunch evangelist,” interested in ways to fuel the mind and body throughout the day. “Pouring energy into something for eight-plus hours a day, much of that time in front of a computer screen, was depleting,” she says. “Lunch became a remedy. It wasn’t a cure-all, but it helped.”
She and her employees don’t have to eat, but during that mandatory break, they walk their dogs, catch up on the latest episode of their favorite reality show, work out or practice yoga, run errands they wouldn’t dare during 5 p.m. traffic, sneak in a nap and even go out to lunch, she says.
“They know I’m looking out for their well-being, not just their performance. I think this is even more important now since everyone on my team works from home, where there is very little to no separation between home and office,” she adds.
Taking lunch breaks while working from home is prioritizing sanity
Remember in grade school when you couldn’t wait for lunch? You got to see your friends, act silly and unwind. With some intentional initiatives, lunchtime can be fun again, says Leyla Shokoohe, a Cincinnati-based content manager. She coined the hashtag #WorkWalks on Instagram to showcase her daily walk breaks, a habit she began during the pandemic when she lived in a 750-square-foot apartment and had to get out to see something “other than the same four rooms.”
“I always feel reinvigorated after a #WorkWalk,” Shokoohe says. “My loop is fairly robust, anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 steps in total, and I find my brain has had space to decompress from whatever the tasks at hand were, and that opens up more space for me to focus on whatever I need to accomplish for the rest of the day.”
She thinks there should be distinct times to prioritize both movement and food breaks: “Employees could then make their decisions autonomously within those parameters, knowing they have those options and the support of the office. When we first returned to the office, I felt a lot of guilt for leaving for any amount of time, but I came to the realization that just because the setting was different, the necessity for the walk hadn’t changed.”
Don’t rush your lunch break working from home
Lisa Dahl thinks these desktop diners are essentially experiencing the opposite of intuitive eating. The intuitive and mindful eating health coach says that our culture has equated eating to something we “do with something else,” not on its own—eating has become passive, the “noise in the background.”
But this isn’t how we are meant to eat. “When disconnected from the eating experience, we are often unsatisfied and tend to want more or snack shortly after,” Dahl says. “Think of being at the movies, eating a bucket of popcorn, and suddenly it’s gone; you want more because you missed the experience.”
Dahl points to the continued lack of boundaries, especially from work-from-home settings, that cause us to feel like we are always “mentally on.”
“This may lead to feelings of depletion, stress or anxiety, which directly negatively impacts our mental, physical and emotional health,” she says.
Holistic movement coach and certified personal trainer Rachel Lovitt has personally seen benefits from prioritizing eating away from the desk—and away from work. This includes better digestion, improved mind-body connection, a decreased likelihood of burnout, increased physical movement and improved connections with others.
Sounds like enough of a reason to change your lunch plans today—and maybe every day after that.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by Lyubov Levitskaya/Shutterstock.com