Time to Reclaim Our Lunch Breaks

Chicago Tribune’s RedEye November 3, 2011

Lunch has always been my favorite part of the work day. I know that isn’t a very controversial stand to take—I might as well declare that the Chicago winters get pretty bad or Hugh Jackman should have taken his shirt off more in “Real Steel”—but, nonetheless, I stand by it. Lunch is awesome.

Lunch is the breath that breaks up my day. It’s a chance to escape my desk and clear my head. Just when my eyeballs feel like they’re going to melt from overexposure to spreadsheets and Google Docs, in swoops my lunch break, like Batman after a call from Commissioner Gordon, here to save the day. I grab my lunchbox, stride into the sun-drenched kitchen, and take a seat … alone. Most days, I’m one of only a few people in my office who takes an actual lunch break.

From a purely anecdotal standpoint, it seems as if lunch breaks are on the endangered species list. Most of my co-workers eat at their desks, working through lunch even though my company has a kitchen and encourages you to get away from your cube. My friends all say the same thing. Most of their co-workers labor through their break, eating a depressing meal awash in the glow of their computer. Office kitchens across the nation are gathering dust with no one to socialize in them, no one to leave a snarky note ordering the microwave be cleaned up.

The decline of the lunch break is, it seems, self-imposed. Perhaps it’s the current economic climate that’s hanging over the heads of the corporate workforce. A heavier workload taken on by thinly spread, post-layoff offices combined with a desire to impress bosses (because the sharp blade of the layoff ax never seems to be too far away) is coaxing employees to remain in their cubicles for the duration of their 40(-plus)-hour work weeks.

Some of the blame also must fall the globalization of business. Now that we’re all so very connected, workers are expected to accommodate clients in different time zones—often at the expense of Central Standard (Lunch) Time.

Whatever the cause, the disappearing lunch break is making us miss out on a much-needed mental break resulting in lower productivity and burnout. Remember what happened to Jack Torrance in “The Shining”? All work and no play means you end up murdering Scatman Crothers with an axe. I’ll pass on that, thanks.

Chicago: It’s time to take back your lunch break. Being overworked shouldn’t be a badge of fortitude. Please, I implore you, get out of your cube. It’s time to stop the zombification of your work day. Remember, even zombies shuffle outside to rot in the sunshine every once in awhile.

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