Workplace Culture

5 lunch break statistics that shed light on American work culture

By JD Farrugia

Aug. 30, 2022

Summary

  • Research shows how taking lunch breaks enhances employee engagement and productivity. Despite this, lunch breaks are getting shorter and many employees fear being judged for taking them. 

  • While there is no federal law stating that companies should offer breaks, many states have implemented their own. 

  • Employers should properly schedule and track compliant lunch breaks to avoid lawsuits and improve workplace culture. 


What do lunch breaks look like in your office? Are your employees “desktop diners,” eating their packed lunches in front of their screens (most likely scrolling through social media) before getting on with their workday? Do they venture out in search of fresh air and some time away from their screens? Or has your company ended up with a workplace culture where employees skip break time altogether? 

There’s plenty of evidence showing that taking a proper lunch break in the middle of the day is vital for people’s well-being and maintaining a better work-life balance. Employees who take their lunch breaks have been found to have higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity and are less likely to suffer from burnout. 

Whitepaper: How to Reduce Burnout of Hourly Employees

Here are five statistics we’ve collected that should give you a clearer picture of the state of the American lunch hour. With these findings in mind, we have prepared some tips on how your human resources team can implement break policies and create a work environment that does lunchtime right.

1. Employees who take their lunch break are more engaged

In late 2017, Tork carried out a survey amongst 1,600 North American employees throughout the United States and Canada. The Take Back the Lunch Break survey findings show that North American workers who take their lunch break show higher levels of engagement than those who didn’t.

The respondents who took their lunch break scored higher with metrics that are normally linked to engagement: job satisfaction, the likelihood to stay with their current company, and the chances that they would recommend their company as a good place to work. Ninety-four percent said that they feel happier when they take their lunch break.

Another study found that 39% of employees who regularly took their lunch breaks reported having a better work-life balance. 

2. Taking lunch breaks boosts productivity

Research also shows that work performance and productivity increase when employees take their lunch breaks during work hours.

Tork’s Take Back the Lunch Break uncovered some interesting stats on this. They found that:

  • 94% of respondents said that stepping away from a task they’re working on helps them to get a fresh perspective on it.
  • 91% of employees and 93% of bosses surveyed agreed that taking a break helps them maintain mental focus.
  • 88% of employees and 91% of bosses said that they feel refreshed and reenergized after taking a break.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that work environments that increase employee anxiety and depression cost the global economy an astounding $1 trillion per year. ezCater’s The Lunch Report study uncovered links between lunch breaks and mental health:

  • 40% of employees said taking a lunch break reduces stress.
  • 39% felt more productive after a break.
  • 37% reported feeling less burnt out when they regularly took time to rest. 

3. Younger employees fear being judged for taking their breaks

Findings from The Lunch Report also show that a quarter of Gen Z workers hesitate to take their lunch break because they worry about what their bosses might think.

Another reason Gen Z and millennial workers cited for skipping their lunch break is that they feel they have too much work to do: 

  • 21% said they don’t have enough time for a proper break.
  • 1 in 5 don’t take breaks so that they can finish work ASAP.
  • 19% said that they have too many meetings or tend to have meetings during lunch hour.

4. Lunch breaks are getting shorter

A study from 2018 found that the average lunch break is getting shorter as we move further away from the concept of the “lunch hour.” The average break in 2018 was 39 minutes; this was down from 43 minutes in 2014. 

The study found differences in lunch break lengths across the country. Workers in Salt Lake City, De Moines, and Cincinnati take the shortest breaks, while those in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami break the longest.

5. Some people don’t take their lunch breaks … and some do so at their desks

Tork’s 2022 study, as part of its continued Take Back The Lunch Break campaign, reveals how many employees are not taking any breaks multiple times a week — 39% of respondents said that they “occasionally, rarely or never take breaks.” The study found that 91% of people are working just as much or more than before the pandemic. Despite this, people are still not taking the breaks they need. 

The study also found that “women are over twice as likely (67%) not to take a break than men (33%).” Women who do remote work are more likely to spend the breaks they do take doing household chores than their male counterparts. 

The Lunch Report also found that 1 in 10 employees never break away from their desks, and 70% “eat while they work at least once a week.” They found that only 10% of Gen Z workers said that they never eat at their desks. In comparison, 26% of millennials and 48% of baby boomers said that they never dined at their desktops.

How employers can create a lunch break culture that fosters a happier workplace

As an employer or a People Ops professional, there are a number of ways you can ensure that your company culture is one that does lunch breaks in a way that is beneficial to your co-workers as well as your organization’s bottom line. 

Know the law

On a federal level, there are no laws that dictate whether or not you need to enforce lunch breaks in your workplace. When employers do offer breaks, federal law states that any breaks under 20 minutes need to be paid by the employer. Any breaks over the 30-minute mark are classified as off the clock.

Some states have implemented their own laws on lunch breaks in the workplace. In Kentucky, for example, companies need to offer their employees a meal break. This is a reasonable unpaid period (normally between 20 and 30 minutes) taken any time after the third and before the fifth hour of consecutive hours of work. Kentucky companies must also offer rest breaks of 10 minutes after every four hours of work. This time is paid. 

Management should set an example

Many workers still feel uncomfortable taking their breaks for fear of being judged by their superiors. This doesn’t help when many C-Suite executives and management personnel can often be seen skipping lunch breaks themselves or eating at their desks

A simple way to create a company culture of taking lunch breaks is for management to actually take their lunch breaks and do it visibility. In the case of remote teams, management can use things like “Out to lunch” statuses on Slack and by blocking parts of their daily calendars for lunch.

Actions like these give your employees “permission” to embrace their own lunch breaks and not feel like outliers when doing so. Tork’s study found that over 9 in 10 employees claim they are more likely to stay at a company where management actively encourages their teams to take their lunch breaks. 

Create or enhance your break room

Having a designated break room within your office is a great way to harness a healthy lunch break culture within your organization. If you do have a room you can utilize as a breakroom, or if you already have one, there are a number of things you can do to encourage your employees to actually make use of it:

  • Provide enough seating space for everyone.
  • Decorate the space to make it feel welcoming.
  • Make sure it is well-equipped with the appliances and storage space needed, e.g., fridge, microwave, and coffee-making facilities.
  • Encourage social interaction by leaving activity items such as cards and games.

Consider catered lunches

Some companies occasionally offer in-office catered lunch to their employees as an incentive. While this is an added expense, research shows that paying for your employees’ lunch from time to time can have a positive impact on morale and engagement. 

The Lunch Report found that 23% of respondents would return to the office full-time if catered lunches were made available for free, and 65% said that they would plan to work on-site more often if complimentary lunches were provided.

Manage your company’s lunch break culture more effectively with Workforce.com

Enhancing your lunch break culture is highly beneficial to your business, but it does add a layer of complexity to your scheduling. Workforce.com offers employee scheduling and time tracking solutions that help make your life easier and ensure you remain compliant with any state laws.

Workforce.com’s scheduling automatically populates shifts with compliant lunch and rest breaks according to local state law. Your employees can view all of this information right on their phones. The Time Clock App allows employees to easily clock out and back in for breaks, as breaks are tracked in real time.

With Workforce.com, your staff will take the breaks they need, and you will avoid unnecessary fines. To find out more about how Workforce.com can handle your scheduling needs, give us a call today. 

Or, for more information on how to improve your scheduling, check out our free webinar below:

Webinar: How to Optimize Your Staff Schedules

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