Leaders in the Canadian property and casualty insurance space need to create the “psychological safety” for employees to take time for lunch, including ensuring that workers don’t get penalized or are viewed as less productive for doing so.
That was one the key messages from the Harvard Business Review blog Take Your Lunch Break!, posted online Jan. 21. The blog was written for a general business audience, but its suggestions regarding how to create an inclusive lunch culture could apply to the P&C industry workforce. About 86% of Canadian P&C insurance professionals are working from home during the global COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent poll by Canadian Underwriter.
Taking real lunch breaks has been linked to improved job satisfaction and productivity, noted blog author Ruchika Tulshyan, founder of inclusion strategy firm Candour.
Company leaders need to create the psychological safety for employees to take time for lunch during COVID-related remote work, she said. “They can also set a good example by taking lunch breaks themselves, and actively encourage break-taking by limiting meetings at a certain hour of the day and arranging recurring lunch events.
“Let’s normalize a proper, generous lunch break – both in the remote work environment and especially when we return to any sort of regular, in-person office environment.”
Remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to longer workdays and more emails and meetings for many employees. Combine that with a back-to-back meeting culture, and foregoing breaks can be hard to avoid, Tulshyan acknowledged.
But the benefits of taking breaks include improved job satisfaction and productivity. For example, recent research from the United States shows that workers are spending an average of 48.5 minutes more at work each day, attending more meetings, and navigating more emails. Tulshyan added that while she’s long been dedicated to her lunchtime commitment of eating away from her desk, catching up with a friend or going for a walk, “I found myself succumbing to the ‘eat-mindlessly-in-front-of-your-computer’ habit (and skipping meals and walks altogether) for much of 2020.”
Everyone benefits when workplace lunches are normalized, Tulshyan said. One survey of 1,600 Canadian and American workers and bosses found that employees who take a lunch break every day reported higher engagement based on metrics including job satisfaction, productivity, and likelihood to recommend working there to others.
“I’d be willing to bet that more organizations could benefit from greater team effectiveness, and normalizing lunch is a great place to start, whether it’s to reduce stress and burnout, encourage team-building, or foster an organizational culture that doesn’t equate overwork with productivity,” Tulshyan wrote.
Among her suggestions for creating an inclusive lunch culture at work:
Take lunch – visibly
When managers take time to step away from their desks and take a break, it creates an environment where employees don’t always have to be busy (or act like they are) to be considered productive. The co-founder of one Indian tech giant, famous for high employee morale, ate lunch in the cafeteria with employees whenever he could, even standing in line for his meal.
As a leader in the remote work environment, that could be creating an “at-lunch” notification, mentioning at the team meeting that you’ll be away from your screen during lunch, or verbally acknowledging in the afternoon, “I’m back from lunch,” Tulshyan said.
“The important thing here isn’t the meal itself, but rather to make it okay to leave your workplace (remote or not) and take a break, whether that’s to eat, exercise, or go for a walk,” she wrote. “When leaders take breaks and make it known that they’re protecting that time, employees feel empowered to do the same.”
Limit meetings at some mid-day hour
Back-to-back meetings are characteristic of North American work culture and cause employees at many companies to skip lunch. If companies instead designated a time for all employees to eat or even run an errand or two every day, more of them would actually take that time for themselves. Lead by example by telling your team, “This is my lunch hour. Don’t schedule meetings at that time, unless it’s to casually connect. Please take your full hour for lunch, too.”
Encourage recurring lunch events
Another possibility is to have company-sponsored “culture lunches,” where employees form different backgrounds could sign up to bring in a meal from their culture to share with colleagues. For large companies, that could be facilitating rotating, smaller-group culture lunches, both as a way for people to get to know their colleagues and to break down silos between departments.
Organize lunchtime networking events, and ensure leaders are present
One organization held a reading club where teams could learn and discuss a new concept and apply that knowledge to problems they were already working on, which spurred innovation. One bonus of lunchtime networking is that it’s inclusive of people who can’t make evening events because of family, caregiving, or other commitments. Importantly, these events should be in addition to – not a replacement for – self-directed lunch breaks.
Prioritize lunch, even if you work for yourself
“When I first started my consulting practice, I quickly stopped listening to my own advice and routinely worked through lunch,” Tulshyan wrote. “Eventually, it became clear that I was going to burn out – not taking breaks was just not sustainable.
“When I take the time to take a proper lunch break, I notice I eat healthier food, and the forced break helps me refresh and clear my mind, bringing a fresh perspective to my work. When I’m safely back to an in-person environment, I plan to intentionally make time for at least two to four lunches a month to build relationships that end up also having business benefits.”