hlg_worklunchgrid-6x2.jpgAmericans aren’t likely to fight for a lunch break. But citizen lunchers from many other nations would, and do. Take workers in Hong Kong.

Last week, about 1,000 securities brokers and traders, and restaurant employees, protested at the headquarters of the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. over a proposed reduction in their lunch break from 90 minutes to an hour, according to Bloomberg.

An hour!? Workers in this country hardly get a few minutes and they don’t seem too upset about it. Most of you are actually eating at your desks. About 65 percent of employees here either eat at their desk or don’t take lunch breaks at all, according to a survey by Right Management, an HR consulting firm.

“Lunch patterns allow us to infer a few things about the North American workplace; and one thing that we already know is that the pressure for productivity and performance can be relentless,” said Michael Haid, senior vice president of talent management at Right Management. “Employees may feel they have to apologize for stepping out, but in the long run this kind of company culture does not help improve performance or engagement.”

And executives aren’t a great example either.

A CareerBuilder survey found, “When asked about their typical workday lunch habits, most senior leaders reported they brownbag their lunch. Twenty-three percent said they normally don’t have lunch at all.”

Here’s how the number break down:

• Bring lunch from home – 41 percent
• Eat at a sit down restaurant – 19 percent
• Grab fast food – 17 percent

And –

* More than half (57 percent) of women typically bring their lunch from home compared to 36 percent of men.
* Men were more likely to order fast food – 19 percent compared to 10 percent of women.

It’s a sad commentary on our stress level and our eating habits.

“For many people, multitasking through lunch is part of the average workday,” said registered dietitian Toby Smithson with the American Dietetic Association. “While shorter lunch hours may result in getting more accomplished, they could also be causing workers to log additional sick days, as desktops hide bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.”

A survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program, found:

* A majority of Americans continue to eat lunch (62 percent)
* And snack throughout the day (50 percent) at their desks
* While 27 percent typically find breakfast the first thing on their desktop to-do list.
* Late nights at the office even leave a small percentage (4 percent) dining at their desktop for dinner.

There is no federal law that provides for lunch or coffee breaks, but some states may have provisions.

Maybe we need to make lunch a national priority. The Hong Kong workers are.

“All the brokers in Hong Kong are so stretched,” said Ruann Cheung, who works at Lippo Securities Holdings Ltd and was quoted in the Bloomberg article. “With a shorter lunch break, we cannot concentrate in the afternoon.”

Right Management’s Haid agreed.

“Sure, workers may feel devoted to their work, which is fine, but given the level of stress in today’s workplace I wonder if the reluctance to take a break is an expression of devotion or a negative consequence of the unrelenting pressure some organizations are exerting on their workforces to get more done with fewer resources,” he said. “Taking time away from one’s desk for lunch would help reduce tension and boost energy. But our research results might lead us to ask is that still a real option for people now?”

I’m thinking many of your aren’t going to launch protests to bring back the precious lunch break, so here are some less confrontational suggestions on how to get your boss to give you time to dine I got from Kevin Fleming, a corporate consultant and psychologist, a while back:

* “Make it an informal setting for a discussion of some important work topic best done ‘offsite.’ Bosses love this. Shows not that you want your lunch back, but that you are astute to office politics and have good boundaries.”
* “Make it a ‘leadership lunch.’ Tell your superiors it is an alignment lunch to get folks on the same page and to make sure they are making them richer faster.”
* “Convince them that the lunch break makes you more productive. Be a ‘Columbo’ [the 1970s TV detective] and show them data that compares these two camps. Many times corporate America is used to hard data so speak in a language they will understand.”
* “If all else fails, make a low blood sugar scene of dramatic proportions.”

My relatives in Athens, Greece have always indulged when it came to their lunch breaks.

They’d leave work and head home around 1 p.m. and sit down with family at a big table loaded with food, everything from grilled octopus with greens to roasted lemon chicken and potatoes. There was also always wine and Ouzo, an anise-flavored liquor, flowing.

As you can imagine, everyone got pretty tired partaking in this feast so they’d all go off to bed for at least an hour nap.

Around 3:30 or 4 p.m. they’d go back to the office or factory and toil until about 7 or 8 p.m.

I always mocked my relatives when we would visit them in Greece during my teen years. Their endless lunch breaks seemed to me to be the height of laziness.

Ah, the ignorance of youth. I would give my right arm if I could get that kind of lunch today. Would you?

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