Few images typify the long hours culture than the office worker faithfully munching lunch at their desk before getting back down to work after this perfunctory 10 minute break. The sorry sight seems to exemplify the notion of employee as wage slave slogging away on the rat race, not daring to leave the office for fear that their boss will believe them to be slacking off.
Alas, new research suggests that the practice of eating at ones desk might not be the anathema to employee engagement that we think. It suggests that the location of our lunch break is not as important as whether we get to choose where we take it.
“We found that a critical element was having the freedom to choose whether to do it or not,” says John Trougakos, , who is an associate professor in the Department of Management at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and holds a cross-appointment to the UofT’s Rotman School of Management. “The autonomy aspect helps to offset what we had traditionally thought was not a good way to spend break time.”
The research asked participants about their lunchtime habits over a 10 day period, before asking them how tired they felt at the end of each day.
They found that the optimum lunch time activity saw employees do something relaxing, which was of their choosing. If the employees were forced to do something over lunch however, even if it was socializing with colleagues, it resulted in higher fatigue at the end of the day.
In other words, lunch with the boss might not be as relaxing as the sandwich you eat at your desk. It all kinda underlines a fundamental aspect of being a social business though in that employees are empowered and free to make their own choices about how they manage their day, with output being far more important than input.
It chimes with similar research published earlier this year looking at so called fun activities at work. It found that employees were happiest when they had control over whether to participate in games at work. When people not positively disposed towards game playing were forced to participate, their productivity plummeted.
The two papers provide yet more support for the positive benefits of empowering employees whilst at work and underlines the fact that managers exist to support employees, not the other way round.