From Wimps to Winners: A Short History of the Office Lunch
For those of you too young to remember, it was Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film ‘Wall Street’ who gave us the classic line: ‘Lunch? Aw, you gotta be kidding. Lunch is for wimps’.
Michael Douglas played the role of Gekko, the greedy corporate raider, who has, in retrospect, come to be seen as the archetype of 1980s excess. That was over quarter of a century ago, in a world so very different from today, but, I’m wondering, if we are still suffering the hunger pangs of that lean legacy?
First, let’s ask ourselves a question…
Hands up if you take a middle-of-the-day break from work? I’m not talking soup at the keyboard, sandwiches on the hoof or the once in a blue moon treat from your boss. I am talking a regular (daily) break from your desk (at least 30 minutes) with some sort of nourishment involved.
If the audit population is representative of the rest of the world of office workers, then I’m guessing very few of you will raise an uninhibited salute to a lunch break. Chances are some of you might assert to lunching at your desk (or in the case of the intrepid external auditor, at someone else’s desk) and a fair proportion will be avoiding my eye.
Studies from around the world suggest that whole-hearted lunching is in decline. In the UK it is estimated that one in five take no lunch break, while in the USA its thought to be two thirds, with a massive 65% desk-lunching or taking none at all. And this is despite the fact that in many countries, meal breaks are now legally mandated.
So, if auditors are not taking our legal entitlement what’s keeping us chained to our desks? Generally speaking, we are, it seems our own worst enemies. While there are a number of reasons offered, including pressure to conform to the ‘no lunch norm’, the biggest blockers are presenteeism and lack of time.
We’ll come back to these, but first let me remind you what all the fuss is about. Concentration, focus and productivity are not purely functions of time quantity; beyond a certain point they are also a function of time quality. Think about it. How effective and efficient can you really be during that audit rite of passage, the ‘all-nighter’? Up to a point your output is correlated with time but it’s not very long before (sleep deprivation aside), the quality of your attention suffers, you’ll find it difficult to get into ‘flow’ and your butterfly mind will be prey to any passing distraction.
All-nighters are extreme (now there’s a symbol of the eighties!) but they do make the point. Saturation kicks in at a relatively low level. Experts have identified that to keep on that upwards productivity trajectory, short breaks actually work as stimulants. In other words, if you force yourself to get up from your desk and take a break, you’ll get all the physical benefits of fresh air, exercise and nourishment but you’ll also get a mental bonus. As the human mind naturally craves completion, you’ll be raring to go post-lunch having made new insights as your subconscious continues to do your audit work over the break. Lack of time is no excuse; lack of lunch itself could be an impairment. Lunch breaks are likely to aid efficiency, improve your creativity and problem solving skills, put you in a better mood and boost your concentration.
But what about if no one else in your office gets it? It’s the done thing to be seen to be so busy that you can’t leave your desk even to fulfil your basic bodily functions? We say, it’s time to be brave, to lead rather than follow, backed up with the research that proves lunch is a productivity booster, and declare to the naysayers, ‘Lunch is no longer the territory of wimps, lunch is for winners!’.
Note from CareersinAudit.com - 'Perhaps not surprisingly, it was difficult to source an image for this article where the subject did not look ecstatic to be eating lunch at their desk!'