Lunchtime might seem like a relatively benign and unimportant part of your workday. However, it’s more fraught with danger — and potential — than is immediately obvious.
Every worker lunches a little differently. But, the choices you make during this time can have a big impact on the rest of your workday.
Do you usually take an actual break or do you eat at your desk and just work straight through? Is eating alone your preference or do you like to have lunch with colleagues? How often do you meet with clients or other associates over lunch?
No matter how you answered these questions, there are a few things about work lunches that you should keep in mind in order to maximize this time and avoid potential pitfalls. Here are a few mistakes you’ll want to try to avoid during lunchtime at your workplace:
1. Skipping your break entirely
You might find that you’re tempted to skip your lunch break and keep plugging away at your desk when you have a lot of work to do. But, that might not be the most productive choice.
Lunchtime — and breaks in general — provide essential opportunities to rest. And, taking breaks is good for productivity and creativity. So, you really aren’t doing yourself any favours by skipping them.
Observing your lunch break is good for your emotional health, it helps to improve learning and it can prevent “decision fatigue.” After a long morning of making choices and charging ahead, willpower and the ability to reason can begin to wear down.
Taking a break helps to restore these energies so that you can be at your best for the rest of your workday. Skipping your break might cost you later in the day.
2. Talking too much
Work lunches give you the chance to interact with others. Just keep in mind that it’s as important to listen as it is to share. It’s great to be interesting, and lunches give you a chance to have some fun and reveal your winning personality a bit. But, you should also aim to show that you’re interested in others during these occasions.
Remember to be an active listener during conversations at work, whether they’re happening during more formal business events or during casual break-room lunches. Listen to the ideas and stories others contribute and ask follow-up questions.
Demonstrating that you’re interested in others and that you’re a great listener is an excellent way to maximize the interpersonal potential embedded in lunch breaks. If you talk too much, on the other hand, you’ll miss your chance. You could even end up doing damage to your work relationships and your reputation over time.
3. Not being mindful of your body language
Sometimes it’s easier to be mindful of the messages you’re sending through your body language than others. During an interview, for example, you probably remember to make eye contact, smile and uncross your arms. But, it can be easy enough to forget these kinds of nuanced subtleties when you’ve let your guard down a little during your lunch break.
However, keep in mind that the way you carry yourself communicates messages to others. Your body language can make you seem closed off, or it can show that you’re trustworthy. So, relax and enjoy your lunch. But, don’t forget to be aware of the kinds of messages you’re sending with your body language. Sincere, easy eye contact and a smile once in a while tend to go a long way.
4. Eating alone
Breaks provide opportunities to bond with your coworkers in ways that just aren’t possible during the rest of the workday. This is true no matter how much time you spend working closely with others. Downtime is just a little different. Lunchtime gives you the chance to decompress together a little and maybe have some laughs. This isn’t just good for helping you to relieve tension, laughter also helps to foster closeness and group bonding.
So, when you opt out of lunching with others, and choose to eat alone instead, you’re missing out on a lot more than just the food and the rest. You’re giving up a chance to strengthen ties with your coworkers. And, keep in mind that having friends at work can benefit your career in all kinds of ways.
5. Not preparing a healthy lunch
Healthy habits, like eating well at lunch, have benefits that extend way beyond the physical. Sure, it takes some time, effort and preparation to fix yourself a healthy and satisfying lunch on a regular basis. But, the rewards of eating a healthy lunch outweigh the costs.
There are tons of health benefits, of course. Eating a nutritious lunch can help to improve your mood and even boost your memory. On the other hand, keeping a diet with a high glycemic load can cause symptoms of depression and fatigue over time. And, high-carb lunches can drag down your energies and make you feel extra sluggish in the afternoon.
Preparing a healthy lunch does take some effort, but it can also save you time in the long run.
6. Creating stress
Your lunchtime is meant to be a break from the hectic pace you keep during the rest of the workday. So, don’t do anything during this time that might actually create stress. For example, it’s nice to go out for lunch. But, if you don’t actually have time for that, trying to force it will only create tension — for you and for everyone else involved.
Take, for example, this story from a Redditor in the food service industry:
So, I had the dreadful four-top of ladies lunching. Except they had to be out in 30 minutes. Um, OK. Except it is 12:30 and every table is literally seated. I explain to awful woman (AW).
Me: I understand; however, we have a full restaurant and a wait right now. So I cannot guarantee that you can be out in the next half hour. So if this is going to be an issue than maybe this isn’t the best place for lunch at this moment. I am very sorry for the inconvenience.
AW: I need this to be rushed!
Me: (Explaining this again.)
Rest of the “ladies”: they order everything WELL DONE.
Me: Sounds great! Thank you! Please keep in mind that well done will take longer, and I can assure you with the busy kitchen and well-done orders I once again have to let you know that it may be difficult for you to be out in the time needed.
Aw: Ugh…just do it. – r/TalesFromYourServer, Reddit
Does this seem like the kind of lunch experience that would help to brighten your day and improve your reputation?
Avoid making plans that add additional stress during your lunch break. Otherwise, your plans for a “relaxing lunch” could backfire.
7. Spending your lunch breaks the same way every day
Credit: Daria Shevtsova/Unsplash
Breaks give you the chance to connect with new people. But, that’s a little bit easier if you vary the time, place and people you lunch with on occasion.
There’s a lot of networking potential at lunchtime. This is true whether you take your lunch in some type of break room or join others at a deli around the corner. Just make sure you don’t do exactly the same thing every day. You’ll deepen the relationships you already have through spending this time with others — and you’ll form some new connections, too.
Always be on the lookout for networking opportunities during your lunch break. You never know when a new client, or even just someone who’s touring the office, is going to stop by your lunch table. You also might have the opportunity to talk with higher-ups or folks from other departments during your lunchtime. Don’t miss out on these chances to network in organic and natural ways. (It can be a lot more comfortable than a more formal approach.)
Avoiding potential work-lunch pitfalls is important, but they aren’t the only things to consider when it comes to maximizing these times. Here are a few additional quick tips to keep in mind to help you to make the most of your lunches:
- Prepare your lunch the night before (or even over the weekend if you can swing it) so that you don’t have to do so at the last minute in the morning. You’ll likely make better choices about what to eat.
- Mind your manners. Remember what you mother taught you about chewing with your mouth closed and not leaving dirty dishes in the sink.
- Balance small talk with weightier conversations. You probably don’t want to spend the entire lunch talking about work. But, it’s not advantageous to avoid these matters entirely either.
- Stay off your phone during lunch. Or, at least walk away from the table if you need to make a call or send a text. It’s just as rude and disruptive to use your phone during these times as it is during the rest of the day.
- Choose to sit with your coworkers at circular tables rather than square ones, if you have the option. This set-up helps to boost collaboration, engagement and participation and create a positive company culture.
- Have fun! It turns out that emotions are contagious. If you enjoy your lunchtime, then others might just follow suit. That could do wonders for your professional relationships, your mood and ultimately your career.
By Gina Belli
This article first appeared in PayScale.