Balancing act: Lunch breaks make for a tasty work-life topic
Of all the topics I discuss regularly in this column, I've found that one in particular is eagerly devoured by readers.
You guessed it. It's lunch.
For some reason, the pieces I've written about lunch breaks tend to be among my most popular, based on Web traffic and reader responses.
I guess that shouldn't be surprising. After all, many of us have been conditioned since elementary school to look forward to lunch as a welcome respite from work — whether that work includes long division or long PowerPoint presentations.
I'm always interested in readers' opinions on this topic. For example, several people responded to a January column about an OfficeTeam survey in which nearly half of respondents said they had a daily lunch break that lasts 30 minutes or less.
As for what they do during that half-hour, the survey found that 42 percent of respondents spend their midday break socializing with colleagues, while 29 percent work during lunch, 27 percent surf the Web or social media, 25 percent catch up on personal calls or emails, 25 percent run errands, 18 percent exercise or take a walk and 3 percent read.
One reader, posting a comment online, remarked that the 3 percent figure for reading seemed too low.
"That's what I've been doing for years," this reader posted. "I usually take 30 minutes, eat a nutritious lunch and read. Occasionally (once a month) I will go out with coworkers for an hour lunch. Also, occasionally if it's not too hot or too cold I will take a walk. I'm just really surprised there are not more readers."
I am, too. On the days that I eat my noon meal in the lunchroom at work, I often see people reading novels while they dine. That seems like an excellent use of time to me.
Another reader, Hal, sent me an email that definitely put him in my good graces.
"I spend my 10-15 minutes for lunch reading the Des News online," Hal wrote. "I’m a subscriber and receive the paper at home, but I usually don’t get to it until after 9 p.m., so I read many stories online."
Bless you, Hal! Not only are you boosting the paper's online numbers, but you're also one of the remaining print subscribers. On behalf of journalists everywhere, I offer a hearty thank you! I do wish you had a longer break, though.
Another reader wrote in an email that she works in an office all day and takes one of her two designated breaks to eat her lunch, "which means I eat lunch in 15 minutes.
"First of all, our office consists of eight individuals who are in and out of the office all day," she wrote. "There are constantly at least three individuals in the office, and I don't get along with one of them, so that leaves two to talk to. We all eat lunch at different times, so I don't feel like we can work it out to eat lunch together.
"Since I spend eight hours in an office, I know how important it is to be active, take a small walk and eat healthy. I know those things are the keys to living a healthy, stable life."
It sounds like she's making good use of her brief break times. And even though she often eats quickly and alone, she wrote that people shouldn't feel too sorry for her.
"Even though lunch isn't a great time to socialize, we most definitely make time for it during the rest of the day," she wrote.
I'm glad to hear that, as I believe that a little socializing — at the right time and in the right amount — helps make life in the office more fun and interesting. And when people are engaged in a work life that they enjoy, they tend to be more productive.
While not as delicious as a discussion of lunch — especially, in my opinion, a lunch that includes bacon — the topic of our nation's tendency to demand longer and longer work hours is another that draws many reader reactions.
"Your article today reminded me of something I learned several years ago," Barry wrote. "I work for a behavioral health company — we are the ones that offer all the work-life balance advice, even if some of us are bad at (building our own balance)."
Barry wrote that he works in sales, but several years ago, the company hired a clinical vice president from New York.
"We were talking about this issue one day, and he indicated he knew a very well-renowned marriage and family therapist in New York," Barry wrote. "When couples first came to him for marriage counseling, the first question he asked was, 'Do either of you work more than 60 hours per week on a regular basis?' If the answer was yes, he indicated that they needed to go back and fix that issue, because until they did, there was nothing he could do for them.
"Some may think that is a rather cruel reality, but my interpretation is that unless you have some real time to spend together, you can’t realistically expect your relationship to thrive."
I think that therapist makes an excellent point. It's hard enough finding time for meaningful interactions with both a spouse and children when you're working 40 hours per week. I can't imagine how difficult that would be if you were working 60 hours or more.
And if both people in a couple were working that much, it would be just about impossible.
Thanks to these readers for their insights. Please keep the comments coming, and in return, I wish you a week of longer-than-usual lunches, regular work hours and lots of quality time with your family.