Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Give Me a Break!

Back in the day, taking breaks at the office was normal and quite enjoyable.  Over the years, there has been quite a shift in the acceptance of taking breaks at all.  Because I have worked for the same company for a really long time, I watched this shift occur right before my eyes.  I went from taking a leisurely lunch with a bunch of my colleagues to grotesquely shoving my lunch into my mouth while at my desk.  And although I can’t speak for everyone, I definitely know of people who work in other professions who don’t take breaks either.  For example, I was recently dumbfounded when a friend of mine, who is a nurse, told me that she doesn’t even get time to take regular bathroom breaks.
Not taking a break has become the norm in many places of employment.  I remember the days when we were so busy that our management teams ordered food for us and apologized profusely for not allowing us to leave our desks for lunch because we were so slammed.  Most of us were okay with it because we knew that it was only a temporary situation, and that we would get our full lunch hour back in a few days.  Fast forward to 2015, where I can’t remember the last time I took a full hour for lunch and didn’t feel guilty about it.

My managers are actually pretty great.  I work crazy hours, I work hard, and they always find a way to let me know that they notice.  So you would think that I would be a little less paranoid about getting up from my desk.  But for me, this is not the case.  Because I work from home, my concern is that someone will call me and think that because I didn’t answer, I am down at the beach having a cocktail instead of being at work.  I worry that if I don’t answer the phone every single time it rings, people may perceive me as unreliable, unavailable or, even worse, a slacker.  Not to mention, it just so happens that almost every time I dash to my kitchen to make myself a plate of food or get up to use the bathroom, I get a phone call with some sort of an emergency.  So, that doesn’t help my fear at all. 

Recently, I started to wonder if employees are on overdrive, constantly trying to prove their worth, and in turn, creating this “no break” environment?  Or has the work environment become too demanding of the employees?  Maybe it is a bit of both.  Regardless of the cause, my question still remains-what happened to lunch breaks? 

One of my favorite bosses used to occasionally take us to lunch for (insert GASP here) over an hour.  We talked about work, but also about our lives.  We laughed and created a personal team dynamic.  We weren’t just colleagues; we became friends.  Instead of focusing on myself, my worth, my deadline, my ability to prove what an asset I was, I focused on my team and how we could work better together.  I wasn’t stressed out about being the best.  I was driven to be a better part of the team.  The moral of the story is that when you are friends with the people you work with, you will tend to do just about anything to help each other succeed. 

In addition to providing great team morale, I believe taking breaks (and not the 10 minute gorging sessions we now call lunch) during a busy or stressful work day can be great for productivity!  Can you imagine going to a meeting without your stomach growling the entire time, wondering if you would get a chance to eat that day?  Can you imagine a room full of employees who had just taken a break, who are refreshed, attentive, sharp, and ready to go instead of cranky, disinterested and hungry?

This brings me to my next point, which is health.  As my readers know, I am a Type 1 diabetic, so eating for me is actually a necessity.  Just because I happen to have a disease that makes eating a requirement, shouldn’t others who are disease-free be allowed to eat the proper nutrients they need in a relaxed atmosphere?  Eating quickly can cause indigestion, which in turn, can cause misery for an employee.  If someone knows they only have ten minutes to get lunch, they may not spend that ten minutes pondering at the salad bar.  They will most likely pick up something pre-made and not nearly as healthy. 

And lastly, we have the stress factor.  If people feel stressed out about going to lunch, getting lunch, eating lunch quickly, they are probably causing themselves unnecessary health issues.  Stress has been linked to serious conditions like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma, panic attacks, headaches and depression, to name a few.  Simply stepping away from your job for a specified period of time could really help someone in a stressful environment.  But if the break period is also stressful, there is no benefit to the employee, or the employer, for that matter.

I realize that in these times, having a job with a steady paycheck is extremely important, and taking breaks may not be seen as a wise choice.  However, I think that if your place of work enables you to take breaks without the guilt, then indulge yourself!  And if you happen to work for a company that frowns upon breaks, maybe starting a conversation with your colleagues or your human resources department might be a good way to go. 

I think we all deserve to add some enjoyment back into our days without feeling like taking a break could get you fired.  It would be great if management could start a movement in which THEY take breaks too!  Leading by example doesn’t only have to apply to the work part of the day.  If managers took noticeable breaks, that alone would encourage their employees to take breaks as well.  And then we would all be happier, healthier and more productive.

I can imagine it, but unfortunately, the trend doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction.  I remain hopeful that we all find some sort of balance to the increasingly stressful days at work.  Until then, I urge you to take your allotted ten minute lunch, walk away from your desk, and reboot.