Updated: Oct 22, 2022
In 2018, Bosch, Sonnentag & Pinck published research studying conditions for optimal employee recovery during lunch breaks in the workplace. This article aims at summarising the results, findings, and managerial implications of this research.
What are the optimal conditions for an employee lunch break at the office?
According to Bosch et al. (2018), employees who can control what they do, reduce their activation of body and mind, and engage with colleagues during their lunch break feel more recovered. Employees who recover better during their lunch breaks show higher levels of engagement and self-efficacy regarding afternoon tasks.
How long should the lunch break be?
Depending on the country and legislation, lunch breaks usually last between 30 minutes and 1 hour. In most European countries and in the US, the general minimum break time employees are entitled to is 30 minutes for 8 hours worked. Usually, workers get a longer break if they work more than 8 hours during the day.
Organizations in favour of a 1-hour lunch break
Some experts argue that employees having a 1-hour break recover better from morning work related-tasks.
A 1-hour lunch break may give employees the opportunity to:
- Cook healthy meals, preventing them from buying processed foods
- Perform sports activities
- Perform leisure activities (e.g.: go to the market, go shopping)
- Interact with coworkers at the office or outside the office
In most cases, lunch breaks are unpaid by the employer, so from an employee's perspective, why feel guilty about it?
Organizations in favour of a 30-minute lunch break
Other experts and organisations suggest that 30-minute lunch breaks be sufficient to replenish energy levels. This is preferred by some employees as the office or work location doesn't present any alternatives to spend longer breaks. In addition, some workers may prefer taking shorter lunch breaks and leaving the office earlier.
A 30-minute lunch break may however lead to:
- Employees buying processed foods and making unhealthy lunch choices given the short time frame
- Not being able to fully exit the work mode and disconnect from previous tasks
- Not feeling fully in control of how they can spend their lunch breaks
4 core recovery experiences applied to lunch breaks
In 2018, Bosch et al. (2018) published research presenting 4 core recovery experiences, previously used by other researchers as frameworks to study how employees recovered from morning work-related tasks during lunch breaks.
More specifically, the authors of "What makes a good break? A diary study on recovery experiences during lunch break" (2018) explored the extent to which each of these 4 different experiences impacted employees' engagement and self-efficacy the following afternoon.
Let us dive into a short summary of these core lunch break recovery experiences.
Psychological detachment in a lunch break setting refers to disconnecting from work-related thoughts, tasks, and issues. Interestingly, the authors found no evidence of psychological detachment resulting in better recoveries from lunch breaks.
That being said, regardless of the recovery experience, each individual has his or her own way of recovering. In other words, while psychological detachment may not work for some workers, it may be an important recovery experience for others.
Relaxation refers to reduced activation of the body and the mind. Depending on your line of work, you may be either sitting or standing at your desk, or constantly on your feet.
This means relaxation takes different forms for each worker.
For instance, if you've been sitting at your desk all morning, you might want to release tension in your back and neck and loosen your tight muscles by taking a stroll through the city. On the other hand, if you're an event coordinator and have been on your feet all morning, you might want to consider sitting down to relax your leg muscles.
Examples of psychological detachment and relaxation approaches:
Playing games with colleagues
Control as a recovery experience refers to the degree to which workers can choose and control what they wish to do during their lunch breaks. This lunch break recovery experience can be considered important from both mental and physical perspectives.
Indeed, by feeling in control of how they want to spend their lunch breaks, employees may experience more substantial peace of mind, arguably essential for both psychological detachment and reduced activation of the mind as recommended during the relaxation recovery experience.
In addition, by controlling what to do, some employees may opt for "unorthodox" or "frowned upon" lunch breaks, such as physical or playful activities, making it easier to exit the work mode and relax.
The role of senior management in the control recovery experience
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, employees feel more recovered after a lunch break when they experience more control. When feeling more recovered, employees present higher levels of engagement and self-efficacy in the afternoon.
This implies managers should consider making employees aware that they are in full control of how they wish to spend their lunch breaks
Relatedness refers to the sense of community, belonging and freedom of expression people feel around other individuals. In the workplace and in lunch settings, this refers to employees' sense of belonging to the team and how valued they feel by them.
Workers socially interacting with colleagues during lunch breaks reported feeling more recovered. They were thus more engaged and productive after the afternoon.
In practice, this could mean employees should consider avoiding screens (i.e.: being on their phones or laptops during lunch breaks) and chatting with colleagues. Again, this recovery experience isn't necessarily a fit for all individuals. For instance, if your job required you to engage in many interactions with coworkers in the morning, it's perfectly normal for employees to take some "me-time".
Examples of relatedness approaches:
Have lunch with colleagues
Cook with colleagues if your office has a kitchen
Organise a PowerPoint karaoke
Walk around the office and name all the plants in the room
Summary and implications for managers
The results of this research by Bosch et al. (2018) show that employees recover better from lunch breaks if they are given and take the opportunity to:
Control what they want to do during their lunch break
Engage and interact with coworkers during their lunch break
Reduce their morning body and mind activation during their lunch break
Employees who recover better have reported higher levels of engagement and self-efficacy in the afternoon.
Business owners and managers should thus consider giving employees control of how they wish to spend their lunch breaks, encourage muscle-loosening activities and provide environments where coworkers can interact during their breaks.
Most importantly, they should consider building or strengthening trustful relationships with employees and coworkers, acknowledging that work well done in the morning should of course be rewarded with a well-deserved break before tackling the second half of the day.
On the other hand, employees should not abuse this trust and find a balance between task completion and rest in the workplace.