Last week I talked about Daniel Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing and described the case for When is the best time to make important decisions? In this week’s installment is about lunch and the evidence that it is the most important meal of the day if you expect productive workers.
Breakfast is not that important
Like Pink, and many of you, I had always read that getting the day off on the right foot required eating a hearty and healthy breakfast. It was supposed to lay the foundation for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, the research does not bear this out.Pink quotes a nutritionist, Enhad Chowdhury, who says the evidence is inclusive. It may help diabetics, but as for the rest of us, the evidence doesn’t show it. There is nothing wrong with eating breakfast, but at the same time, it does not make you necessarily more productive. Lunch, on the other hand, is a different story. With all the evidence that shows most people have a productivity dip in the afternoon, it is important to make sure people have a lunch meal. Unfortunately, we in the US often give lunch short shrift. Pink says “By one estimation, 62 percent of American office workers wolf down lunch in the same spot where they work all day long.” And that is bad news, both for productivity reasons but also legal reasons, as I will mention.
At your desk or away from your desk?
A study in 2016, says Pink, looked at 800 workers who either took lunch at their desks or away from their desks. The workers who ate their lunch away from their desks were able to deal with the stresses of their jobs much better than those that ate at their desks. This result was not confined to the day of the test but for the entire year.
It is, however, not just a matter of being away from their desk. The researchers found that the greatest effect was achieved when these workers had lunch times that provided them autonomy and detachment. The people that had the opportunity to decide what they could do at lunch and do it away from any work, faired the best in meeting the challenges of the afternoon doldrums and lapses in productivity.
It helps in FLSA compliance as well
This information is not a Pink observation, it is mine. It is a safe bet that most of those workers studied were nonexempt employees, most likely salaried, nonexempt employees. Most of those workers who were eating at their desks probably also engaged in work while doing so. They were also, in many cases, not paid for that work, often assuming the responsibility of staying at their desk and eating while working. Under the FLSA that made all that lunchtime compensable, that is those employees needed to be paid for that time. Under the FLSA those nonexempt employees, if not fully relieved of all duties, have to be paid for the time worked. Since most of them were probably working 40 hours per week, or more, by working at lunch they were accruing overtime hours at a minimum of 2.5 hours per week, in many cases 5 hours per week. At the end of the year that makes for a pretty hefty overtime bill, depending on how many employees are involved.
Letting employees take a lunch, away from work and the associated stresses, will increase the productivity of the employees and help the company avoid paying overtime or help avoid making wage and hour violations. You decide what you want to do.