Lunch Breaks: 1 Hour Too Long

foodforthoughtheader

We do a lot of stuff in our organizations for the sake of, well, “we’ve always done it that way” kind of thinking.  Why do we have our employees show up at 8am and leave at 5pm?  Is it because that’s when your customers need you to be there?  My bank is open from 9am to 6pm.  I hardly ever make it to the bank when they are open – I need them to be open at either 7am or 7pm – but they aren’t open those hours.  My barber is open from 7am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, 8am to noon on Saturday.  So, on Saturday mornings there are 300 hundred people waiting in line.  Wouldn’t it make sense for them to be open like 1pm to 9pm?  Most businesses would be better off with different hours, but tradition keeps them open during hours when the majority of their customers probably can’t come in – it’s silly!

What about your lunch break?  In the business world, it’s almost always from noon to 1pm, or hours right around that time – 11:30am to 12:30pm, etc.  1 hour.  Does it take you 1 hour to eat your lunch?  Probably if you go out to lunch at a sit down restaurant, but anything fast food, or sandwich shop, or bring your lunch to work and you can definitely be done in under 30 minutes.  Take a look at this chart from Slate:

Basically, Americans spend a total each and every day, on average, using 1.1 hours to eat (that’s a total of all meals, snacks, etc.).  So, spending 1 hour to have your business power lunch, seems a bit long.  I spend more hours per week with my co-workers then I spend with my kids.  Taking an extra 5 hours for lunches, when that time could be spent with my family, doesn’t seem like the balance I would like.  Yet, organizations continue to plod along with 1 hour lunches.  I think organizations that allow this to be flexible are moving in the right direction – I can eat my lunch in 20 minutes – so I’m going home 40 minutes earlier, or something like that – seems to make the most sense.

HR Pros see this and they cringe, right?  Why?  Because as soon as you put this type of policy into practice, what happens?  You’ll have employees who will continue to use an hour, but say they only use 30 minutes, and leave at 4:30pm – and boom, you’ve got a problem.  That’s the real issue at play here. We don’t make the changes we should because one or two bad eggs usually ruin it – plus the majority of our managers are conflict avoidant and don’t want to have to deal with the bad eggs, so let’s just make those kinds of policies.  Case closed.  Silly! Again!

So, HR PRos – what do you think – are your lunch “hours” too long?  If so, what should they be? Hit me in the comments.

FOT Background Check

Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at www.timsackett.com. Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.

19 Comments

  1. Shelley Piedmont says:

    Part of the issue here is also state mandated meal breaks. They also take away flexibility of employees to better manage their meal needs.

    Reply
  2. paul humphreys says:

    You are assuming that the only purpose of a lunch break is eating food. I think this is a mistake.
    A proper break of one hour in the middle of the working day means employees return to their desks for the afternoon with a renewed energy and focus. This is hard to measure, but that doesn’t mean that the benefit does not exist.
    I do agree working hours should be more flexible, but if you remove the lunch break then people will feel obliged to wolf down their food in 5 minutes and get straight back to work. That is not a step forwards.

    Reply
  3. K says:

    Sounds like a plan (read policy)! But how long can HR be the cop? And what happens if an employee is required to sit in later than usual? Like during a client escalation, or a special project for instance? He may refuse to do so – “you police my lunch hour, I don’t see why I shouldn’t apply the same rule on my working hours”.

    Reply
  4. Cathy Weselby says:

    How about measuring people based on productivity instead of how many hours they sit in a chair?

    Reply
  5. Tim Sackett says:

    I think we can all agree that treating people like adults and not clock watch is the ideal solution – but I think we can all agree that most organizations aren’t in that place, just yet. I was trying to point out that having a “1 hour” lunch break is probably designed around a time we no longer live in – but yet here we are still doing it. For some – a one hour break might be ideal – for others maybe they need 2 hours – and still others may only need 20 minutes. But we tend to manage everyone the same – it’s easy – 1 hour for all – no matter what you need. Certainly there are some laws around why we have “breaks” given to workers – and those are needed in many environments for safety.

    I still believe a 1 hour lunch break is a thing from a time gone by us.

    Reply
  6. shana says:

    Like Paul mentioned, I question the assumption that eating is the only thing that happens during a “lunch break.” For us in CA, if you work an 8 hour day, you get a 30 minute meal period and 2 breaks – so the hour is codified in the state laws.

    But, in my experience (in Silicon Valley as a disclaimer), we have a lot of people that use the hour to run errands, go to the gym, and all sorts of personal things and then come back and eat at their desk while they work. Except in positions where there is some sort of required times (customer support type roles), no one cares when you take your hour, if it’s more or less than an hour, or if you even take it at all. (some legal stuff notwithstanding)

    I think that the idea of the hour lunch has evolved to be less about lunch and more about maintaining sanity in a hectic world. (Results may vary based on industry, geographic area, and physical location of the office to any places of interest)

    Reply
  7. Emily Blanchard says:

    Do you want your employees to feel like you are imposing new rules and motivating them to leave for a better company that doesn’t measure their value based on how long and how they use there `lunch’ break? Do you want them to bad mouth the company externally (on-line and offline) and warn people not to work there and plot to leave. Did you know that it’s a CA state law to allow people to take their lunch and other breaks. Do you realize the negative impact this will have on productivity? When you tell someone that they can’t have something they really want, they want it even more and will do what they need to do to get it regardless of how. Do you know that most people, unless they need to run errands, eat at their desks? The time frames in which people generally take a `lunch’ break’ coincide with being hungry mid-day. What’s next, no MD appointments? BTW I am eating lunch at my desk and it’s only been 15 minutes and I will be back to work as soon as I finish writing this comment…

    Reply
  8. Ben Martinez says:

    Tim—I agree w/ your view on the lunch hour. It’s a thing of the past. It would be a major buzz kill to work for an org. that cared so much about the lunch hour. Speaking of buzz kills…Let’s be okay with doing the wet lunch (at times). As long as people are safe, getting their work done and hitting their targets. Go for it.

    Reply
  9. Ed says:

    No question the one hour lunch break is from a legacy that doesn’t necessarily apply to today’s world. And yes, most companies haven’t progressed beyond the timekeeping and governance of mandated breaks and lunches. The legal argument doesn’t hold water with me either since the laws are more dated than the policies. As progressive HR professionals we need to move our thinking from what is “legal” to what is “right”. It isn’t very often that what is right isn’t legal. Creating environments that encourage productivity over time spent is typically a win-win for employee and employer. And yes, the bad eggs have to be managed so they don’t spoil it for the whole bunch but people appreciate being trusted and empowered to do good work regardless of how long it takes and where that work gets done. If your policy starts with this premise, your on the right track. Engaging topic Tim! Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Ed Vesely says:

    I agree with Ed (the other one). This topic may be relevant for a few hourly employees but it’s an archaic discussion for most contributors. It harkens back to the industrialization era when employers didn’t trust their employees and believed they needed to be whipped to perform.

    Find a trust-based culture and help the company excel. And while you’re at it, find one that offers flexible office and remote office options. You’ll likely find top talent thriving there and the lunch breaks will follow.

    Reply
  11. Jen says:

    I agree with you. My husband only takes a half hour lunch and I am SUPER jealous. We just had a baby and I’d LOVE to spend my “extra” half hour with him instead of reading or a lot of times – working. Sometimes a 1 hour lunch break is nice to bond with coworkers, etc. but I’d say that is about once a week for me. I choose to eat a healthier lunch from home most days.

    It is all about the individual. Some people may need the longer break. Giving employees the freedom to choose would be the best option though. I let my direct report take a 30 minute lunch and she loves it. It just isn’t an option for me.

    Reply
  12. Erin D. says:

    I both agree and disagree. My employer is located in California, where, by virtue of the law, a great number of employees are non-exempt. Those employees must take at least a 30 minute lunch break. No exceptions. Anyone who says to forget about the law, has never been hit with a wage and hour claim in California.

    With that said, I tell my reports that they can take any amount of time between 30 minutes and an hour (may vary by the day). And, they can take a longer lunch break if they need to, just let me know. As far as the timing, I tell them they need to start it within the first 5 hours of work, but otherwise, they are otherwise free to take it when they want.

    So, there is a way to be legally compliant AND flexible, but you can’t just say, “do away with mandatory lunch breaks for all, the law be damned”. At least not in CA.

    Reply
  13. Taking a break allows people time to go and do things they need to do – grab some shopping for supper, top up on milk, go to the shoe repair shop, post a letter.

    It’s important to get time away from a computer screen, mentally and physically.

    And its useful time for catching up with colleagues: sometimes that space to think and talk is invaluable.

    If you work through with no break, you will inevitably be less effective.

    Perhaps the problem is the ‘only taking an hour to eat’, rushing food and conversations, rather than the fact that it’s too long?

    Reply
  14. Rachel says:

    As a diabetic, I need 5 mins to take my insulin before eating. Then there’s the 5 mins waiting for the microwave, and 5 mins using the microwave. That leaves 15 mins to eat which feels like I need to scarf down my food before heading back to my desk. It definitely depends on the individual but it would be nice to have that extra half hour to breathe. And as mentioned in the article, since most businesses are closed by the time one leaves work (usually 5pm), it would be nice to have that extra time to run a few errands.

    Reply
  15. Pril says:

    Hour lunch is reasonable.. I haven’t had a half hour lunch since grade school. Currently my job only gives half hours.
    Wow I have been late every time. I even call my order up so it’s ready by the time i drive there to pick it up. i have just enought time to drive back to the office and sit at my desk and eat while i work. now I have grease on my key board, my mouse has some of yesterdays lunch on it. My company has to pay for mouse traps and bug issues becuase i’m not the only one who does this. Why not save the money and just give people ample time to take care of their business. 5 hours of business time is plenty to take care of the running.
    I work full time and i’m also a full time house manager. Lucky no kids.

    So i have to take a personal day every week to go to the bank and do my post office stuff.
    Now I could eat fast food every day but i thought they wanted to lower their health insurence cost? how can they do that when everyone eats fast food and has heart issues due to the fast food they eat..

    Eating the food is simple it does only take 10 – 20 minutes. But getting the food is the time consuming part!

    either way 1hour lunches are ideal!

    Reply
  16. Justin says:

    I’ll have to disagree with people saying 1 hour lunch breaks make people more productive. Studies show that after lunch productivity suffers. The problem isn’t the lunch break, it is the whole idea of buying someone’s time instead of their talent. For example, I can complete a task, that took my predecessor two weeks, in less than 30 minutes due to the fact i know how to write macros in excel and he didn’t. I was told that I had two weeks to complete this task and after 30 minutes i am done. Why is it that the same job is paid a lower rate to a more productive worker? He was paid two weeks salary for this task and I am only paid 30 minutes. Does that not make a worker want to be lazy and unproductive? Things should be based on completed projects and skill and not time sat in a chair. Most people who sit at a desk job dont even work the majoroty of their day, most of their time is spent on facebook, youtube, and other time wasting sites. Anyhow, I personally love savimg my company money and accomplishing as much as possible in the time allotted to work, but not everyone is looking out for the company.

    Reply
  17. Joe says:

    I am generally finished with my lunch in under 30 minutes, even though I’m given a full hour. Depending on where you live, many places require that employees be paid for their lunch if it is under 30 minutes. By making the lunch an hour long, the employer avoids having to pay their employees for that time. In addition, the employer benefits from the fact that many people will finish their lunch early and continue working.

    I’m salaried, so if I end up working 8.5 hours per day because of the fact that I was given too long of a lunch break, I don’t get anything extra out of it.

    I take a late lunch (1:30 p.m. usually), and there have been many days where things come up (urgent calls, busy work, whatever be the case) that cause my lunch to be delayed, sometimes to the point that I just leave an hour early.

    It all depends on how greedy the person is who signs your paycheck.

    Reply

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