Unless your company is exempt from standard rules regarding working hours, your full-time employees are entitled to a 30 minute lunch break for every seven to eight hours they spend on the clock. In most workplaces, employees typically work a 7.5 hour shift each day (or more) and spend about 30 minutes to an hour of that time eating lunch at their desks, going to restaurants, eating food they carried from home, or going out to buy lunch and returning to eat it in the office. Employees may also spend this hour taking care of personal errands.
It may be unwise or intrusive to regulate this hour too aggressively—For example, to require all employees to eat in the company cafeteria, or to prevent employees from leaving the building during this time. But if your team’s lunch hour customs seem to be undermining general workplace productivity, here are a few tips that can keep the practice within bounds.
Pay attention to what your employees are doing during this hour.
You don’t need a sign-in sheet and you don’t need to force employees to report to you regarding their lunch habits, but as a manager, feel free to pay attention to what’s going on during this time. Who’s eating with whom? Who stays in and who goes out? Who are the leaders and who tends to get left behind? Do employees use the break room to eat lunch or do they avoid it?
Discourage those who straggle back to work.
There’s not much difference between a 60 minute break and a 65 minute break. But if that extra five minutes stretches to 30 or more and employees take advantage of this blurry line, feel free to dust off and enforce your neglected lunch hour policy. Many employees who would never dream of showing up later than 9:00 each morning are very casual about when they return from lunch.
Make your break room/ lunch room inviting.
As the parent of any teenager knows, the more welcoming and comfortable your home, the less likely your children are to disappear and congregate elsewhere. If you keep your break room pleasant (clean, roomy, set apart from hallways and foot traffic, no irritating noises or flickering fluorescent lights), then your employees will be more likely to eat lunch on site. This can build workplace comradery and also ease the transition back onto company time.
Eat with them…sometimes.
Managers are wise to avoid crowding their teams during the lunch hour. Don’t follow them, sit down with them uninvited, or join them every single day. But if you eat with your staff now and then, you’ll be keeping communication channels open and informal. By all means, make a practice of ordering sandwiches or pizza for everyone periodically, or taking individual employees out to restaurants and picking up the tab.
For more on how to shape your lunch hour in to a team-building or morale boosting experience (or at the very least, a welcome break), reach out to the staffing and management experts at Personnel Services Unlimited.