As an attorney, Frances Slusarz is used to working 12-hour days and taking a 10-minute lunch break at her desk. Working during her lunch break can mean the difference between working late and getting home in time to put her three children to bed.
But since organizing a "Take Back Your Lunch" event every Wednesday this summer in Stamford, Conn., Slusarz has found she's more energized and is a more productive worker after the weekly one-hour lunches with other workers who found it difficult to use an hour of a workday for something other than work. As for the other four workdays, Slusarz has increased her lunch to 20-30 minutes, which she considers a success.
"Now I think I'm a bit more tuned with how I'm focused throughout the day," she said in a telephone interview with AOL Jobs.
She's one of many people in more than 50 cities across the country to join the program, which aims to get American workers on a collective lunch break for an hour on Wednesdays. The group that runs the informal program, called The Energy Project, reports that people who take a lunch hour are more productive at work than those who don't.
Working without a break can hit the point of diminishing returns, and taking an hour for lunch maintains energy over the course of a day, Slusarz said she found. Trying to be more productive during a recession when people are being laid off is sensible, but trying to do it while rushing through lunch won't make you more productive, she said.
"You sort of get into this mindset that "If I take breaks, maybe I'm expendable,'" she said.
Quickly eating lunch while working at her desk led to health problems such as headaches, digestive issues and mood swings for Anita Fisher. A new job with a longer commute didn't give her time to make her own lunch, so she started eating out and found it a great way to escape the stress of work.
"Getting out for lunch was a means of escape," Fisher wrote in an e-mail. "It made the job more bearable. It allowed me to get a breath of fresh air and sunshine, too, and put me in a better mood to get through the long afternoon. Even today, I still insist on a full hour for lunch. Because I deserve it. Because taking a leisurely lunch is actually good for digestive health."
She now follows the holistic health science of Ayurveda, where digestion is considered the key to health. Taking a longer lunch allows her to chew food more slowly, making digestion easier, she said.
For Jeff Simmons, taking a lunch break is practically part of his job. As vice president for communications at the Alliance for Downtown New York, Simmons takes a walk around Lower Manhattan to clear his head. He usually eats a granola bar instead of taking a lunch break, and instead takes his break with a walk. Everyone should schedule some break to decompress each day. "It cuts down on stress, lets you exercise, and regenerates you for the remaining part of the work day," Simmons said in an e-mail.
Some groups, such as Blue Shield, have Walk-at-Lunch days to encourage people to exercise during lunch.
That can be hard to do in some industries. Pharmacist Amy Keast points out that a pharmacy must close if only one pharmacist is present, so most businesses won't close for lunch. "It is such a fast paced environment that some people given the opportunity choose not to leave because of the mess they return to," Keast wrote in an e-mail to AOL Jobs
Several chain companies close for a 30-minute lunch when there isn't enough staff to cover breaks, she said, adding that many pharmacists work a 10-hour shift without a break.
For some workers, 12 minutes is enough. Carol Harnett, a physiologist and a health, disability and wellness expert, recently worked with a group on a health campaign called 12@12. "The basic concept is for employees to take 12 minutes at 12 noon to do something for themselves...walk, climb stairs, stretch, breathe," Harnett wrote in an e-mail. "The benefit of this approach is, since everyone is doing it at the same time, you gain the benefit of community, relationships and support."
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