What’s the most productive time of day for your employees?
Is it midmorning, once they’ve had their coffee, read their e-mail and settled down to the tasks at hand? Is it midafternoon, as they’re rounding the final curve and hitting the straightaway for the tape – i.e., 5 o’clock?
Could be. But new research suggests that, in some respects, the most productive time of day might just be the lunch break.
How’s that? Well, according to the research, employees who relax during the lunch break are less fatigued – and therefore more productive – by the end of the day than those who don’t.
The research was done by organizational behavior professor John Trougakos at the University of Toronto. He and his team studied the activities of 78 employees over a 10-day period, looking at what they did at lunchtime, and asking selected, close co-workers to gauge how energized or otherwise these employees were by the end of the day.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, the research found that people who skip lunch altogether, or eat it at their desk, were more tired at the end of the day than others.
Socializing is work
But more surprisingly, the research also found that people who take their lunch break, but socialize with co-workers during it, tended to be more tired late in the day than those who did purely relaxing activity at lunchtime – like reading, going for a walk or taking a short nap after eating.
Another key finding from the research: Employees who felt they had more control over their lunch break tended to be less tired at the end of the day than those who felt less control, no matter what they did at lunchtime!
The supervisor’s role
So what should a smart supervisor do about lunch breaks? Here are a few ideas:
1. Encourage employees to take the break and not just sit at their desk.
2. Make sure that the break area is clean and attractive, so that people won’t be put off by grime or dinginess.
3. Get the message out that it’s OK, and not unfriendly or standoffish, to sit quietly by oneself during lunch. Socializing can be as fatiguing as work if people feel they’re obliged to do it.
4. If you’re able, secure the use of a separate room – with couches, if possible – for employees who want to take a post-lunch rest or nap.
5. Give people some flexibility as to when they take their lunch break. Fatigue-inducing stress may be triggered when someone is trying to finish a task or project and is obliged to interrupt it for a lunch break that must be taken at a certain hour.
Source: “Lunch breaks unpacked: The role of autonomy as a moderator of recovery during lunch,” by Trougakos, Hideg, Cheng and Beal, Academy of Management Journal.
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