In praise of lunch breaks

10/14/2013 11:21 AM

10/14/2013 11:23 AM

Those of us who eat lunch at our desks, one hand on the computer mouse, the other on a sandwich, need to pay attention.

It’s bad for us. And though our employers may not acknowledge it, it’s bad for them, too.

Research reports are piling up that confirm we don’t work any better when we toil uninterrupted. Brain mapping shows it’s impossible to sustain high levels of concentration for hours on end.

Just because we put in more time doesn’t necessarily mean we’re more productive. We need to acknowledge that our minds need breaks, just as our muscles need to be protected from repetitive motion injury.

With all the attention to corporate wellness programs — the last, best hope to reduce health care expenses — more workers are hearing about the importance of daily exercise and the physical problems that result from too much sitting.

But the message sometimes gets trumped by the press of business in the do-more-with-less, nerve-wracked workplace. A lot of workers simply have big workloads and are afraid to take a break.

Industrial psychologists and other experts say that workers need to shed the guilt trip and create their own renewal times. A lunch break (not at one’s desk), a walk around the block, a chatty interlude with a co-worker, a quick errand to the drug store or library, even a private phone call with a friend or family member: These can be counterintuitive prescriptions for productivity.

What’s important is a change of pace and change of focus. Some employers even provide sanctioned nap rooms. It’s hard to improve on the rejuvenating power of sleep.

There is, of course, a vital balance between goofing off and taking breaks. Workers are hired to

work. But employees — and employers — need to recognize physical and emotional limits.

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