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  • Tamar Balkin

Can Reclaiming Your Lunch Break Improve Your Wellbeing?

I decided to walk up some random stairs during my lunch break and saw this beautiful view!!

Some of my Australian readers may be old enough to remember the 1970s and early ’80s, in when salary packages commonly included a range of tax-free benefits including company cars, travel and restaurant meals. The restaurant industry definitely benefitted, as the business lunch was often a long drawn out affair. Whilst the taxation law changed in 1986, it was not meant as a signal to not eat lunch, but perhaps not to spend 6 hours eating lunch and drinking lots of wine.

I am constantly surprised by the number of people who eat their lunch at their desks. Often they are people who are focused on fitness and health yet they are not taking the time to enjoy their nutritious meal in the middle of the workday to give their brains and bodies energy. Having recently gained accreditation in the Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey (a comprehensive measure of situational well being in leaders) I find in my discussions with clients about wellbeing, the subject of eating lunch often comes up. As you would know wellbeing can be improved by:

  • putting nutritious food into your body,

  • setting boundaries between work and life,

  • taking regular breaks in the workday,

  • focusing the mind on interests beyond work,

  • connecting socially with others, and

  • giving to others.

With a bit of planning all of these can be accomplished by scheduling regular proper lunch breaks. One client proudly told me he didn’t bring lunch from home so he would have to leave his desk walk a bit and buy lunch. When I remained quiet, he sheepishly told me that typically he is away from his desk for a good 7 minutes, 10 perhaps if there was a long wait for the lift. Ironically my client works two blocks from circular quay, a stunning iconic location in Sydney where tourist flock in droves to peer at our magnificent harbour. This client reports to the CEO of a multinational organisation and has ambitions to expand his Australian role to Asia Pacific in the next 12 months. He travels extensively and he has set himself significant challenging goals for the year ahead, both in terms of work and wellbeing. As part of the wellbeing conversations, we started talking about the changes he wanted to make in the culture of his team. It was not necessary to remind him of the physical, psychological and intellectual benefits of a lunch break, or how unhygienic it is to have a messy keyboard. Rather we focused on what habits he wanted to create, for part and full-time staff, and how was they would to stick to their new routines. Here are some of the ideas we generated:

  1. Once a fortnight eat lunch with someone you don’t work with:

  • You can meet face to face, or if you don’t work close to others, make a telephone date and have a ‘virtual lunch’.

  • Do not talk about your work the whole time, this is not a marketing meeting, it’s lunch

2. Once a week eat lunch away from your desk for 45 minutes, you can listen to an audio book, read a novel, watch some sport, listen to a song, day dream, people watch, but DO NOT DO ANY WORK!!

3. Set up a monthly no excuses lunch group, meet three or four good friends who you don’t work with to enjoy a good meal. Set some group rules that unless you are ill or need to attend a funeral you have to attend lunch. (Thank you to my husband and his crew for this idea)

4. Every quarter have a team lunch out in the fresh air.

5. Once a week go outside, if possible to a park or where you can see some nature to sit and eat lunch.

6. If you feel compelled to eat at your desk, or in your office, then ensure you go for a walk for 15 minutes and properly ‘clear your head’ from work.

7. Every few weeks, connect and have lunch with someone you can help either personally and professionally.

8. Finally keep the GP (and your mum) happy and include some fresh vegetables in your lunch every day.

For those readers who are keen to improve your wellbeing here is some homework to keep you accountable:

  • Pick a regular lunch break idea that you are going to stick to.

  • Book your lunch breaks in your diary.

  • Tell your staff, peers, boss, etc your plan.

  • Email me your plan

  • If you feel like being a teenager send me a picture of you at your lunch break

  • Send me an email and let's meet for lunch,

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