Contrary to popular opinion, taking that lunch break away from the office for restaurant food and fun may decrease your productivity in the afternoon. It may be better for workers to stay in the office until the workday is over.
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This news is rather distressing, if you’re a big proponent of taking breaks to be energized while working. It seems that there are scientifically proven reasons not to go out for lunch, and rather to stay in the office for quick bite before going back to work.
A recent study published in the journal Plos One examined the effects on workers of going out to lunch. Called How About Lunch? Consequences of the Meal Context on Cognition and Emotion, the study found that workers are more productive if they skip restaurants for lunch, and eat in from a brown bag.
Going out to eat with friends is relaxing and refreshing. The social interaction is pleasant and it is hard to argue that we don’t benefit from spending time socializing with people whose company we enjoy. Therefore, it seems to make sense that going out to eat with others during the workday lunch break would be a good thing.
The study found, however, that this experience made workers more sensitive to negative facial expressions of others. This may sound like a small thing, but as the afternoon wears on it can be highly detrimental. For example, your boss is stressed because he is behind on a report that is due before 5:00 p.m. He enlists your help. You misinterpret his facial expressions and manner as a personal insult or threat to your job. Suddenly, this psychological effect of eating out is not so inconsequential.
Cognition relates to thinking and learning. Another ill effect of going to a restaurant for lunch before returning to work is the diminished ability to think and the tendency to make more mistakes. Participants in the study who worked after a restaurant lunch were less likely to catch their mistakes.
This is bad news for restaurant owners and employees who may make their living serving business-day lunches. However, workers who choose to grab a bite in the office may be more productive, easy to work with, and do a better job.
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