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1 in 4 Gen Z Employees Worry That Taking a Lunch Break Makes Them Look Bad at Work

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We've all heard the saying, 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day,' but many experts think lunch is the most crucial, as it energizes your body during the middle of the day, boosting your energy and productivity. Unfortunately, many Gen Z professionals aren't taking their lunch breaks, and it's affecting their performance.

In April, ezCater, a business catering company, surveyed 1,000 workers across the U.S. , from different industries, to analyze the lunch patterns of today's workforce. Their report found that 78% of workers think having a lunch break improves their productivity at work. Yet, 1 in 10 employees never take a break from their desks. Seventy percent of workers also eat while they work at least once a week, eliminating that much-needed time to recuperate.

"[Lunch breaks] help cleanse your mind," ezCater's chief demand officer, Diane Swint, tells CNBC Make it. "Whether you're working at home, or you're working on a factory line, you need to take a break and check your energy."

For Gen Z workers, lunch break hesitancy is the most prevalent, due to overworking, "lunchflation," and poor examples from higher ups in their company.

Workaholic woes

A recurring theme amongst the younger generation of workers is that their workload exceeds the actual workday. Twenty-one percent of Gen Z'ers told ezCater they don't have enough time in their day to get their work done if they take a break. Nineteen percent of Gen Z professionals say they have too many meetings during the lunch hour, and 27% say they avoid breaks altogether to finish the workday as quickly as possible.

"I think there's a false sense that if you work straight through, you'll be more productive," Swint says. "There needs to be a reframing of a holistic approach to how you are being creative and innovative in the work that you are doing. And I think sometimes that means you need to go slower to go faster."

Swint believes that getting rid of workaholic cultures can allow people to "work smarter so they don't have to work as hard." It can also help foster employee relationships by allowing for more collaboration and socialization during lunch, which many people have missed out on in virtual settings after the pandemic.

"Maybe start a habit like, on Thursdays make sure everybody is having lunch… bring the team together. In this world of Zoom, we have gotten used to these very transactional level relationships. Sometimes, if you have more understanding of who your coworker is, you have more awareness, and you will be able to collaborate faster and more effectively."

The fight against "lunchflation"

Inflation isn't just affecting society, it's creeping into our workplaces. Many employees find office lunches to be too expensive, and Gen Z'ers are dishing out the most money. According to ezCater's report, 67% of Gen Z workers spend at least $11 when ordering lunch. With 43% of workers buying lunch three to five times a week, young professionals could be spending up to $50 a week, causing many to skip lunch altogether. 

Since June 2021, the cost of groceries has increased by 12.2%, and the cost of food overall increased 10.4%, including restaurants and fast food. The average median salary for Gen Z workers is $667 a week, and the median rent in the U.S. is $1,876, leaving young people with about $792 before tax to handle monthly expenses such as utilities, transportation, insurance, student debt, phone bill, food and other essentials.

Swint thinks that companies should consider adding free lunch days in the office to show employee appreciation, encourage lunch breaks and even get more workers to return to office.

"You don't need to do these massive, huge programs, it can be simple. It says, I see you, I want you to take a break, I appreciate what you're doing."

Executives set the pace

According to the report, higher-ups may be setting a poor example for their employees when it comes to lunch habits. Fifty-six percent of director-level employees and 51% of VPs (and above) work at their desks while eating lunch at least 3 times per week. And younger employees are feeling the pressure to do the same.

One in four Gen Z workers are worried that their employer won't look favorably on them if they take lunch. Swint says that it's up to leaders to set healthy examples for their employees by encouraging breaks. 

"When you think about the quality of the work and the kind of full investment folks have in the job that they're doing, you want them to do it well not to just get it done. And I do think that we've seen that with the great resignation, there is a lack of engagement. So as a company, how do you pull that all together? How do you capture the hearts and minds of your team? You can start with lunch."

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