In 2021, in the hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19, the French government temporarily did away with a long-standing work lunch policy that prohibited people from eating lunch at their desk at work. Now in 2022, the suspension has finally been lifted, and it’s about time companies here in the United States take a page from the French’s lunch book.
A health crisis paused the workplace lunch ban in France in 2021, but interestingly, public health concerns are also what inspired the ban in 1894, notes NPR. During a time of industrialization, factories were packed with workers picking at their lunch time meals in an environment filled with germs. “From airborne tuberculosis to phosphorus fumes, these work sites were far from sanitary,” writes Luis Trelles.
To prevent the spread of disease, health experts at the time thought of ways to flush out the workplace as you would flush a toilet, explains Martin Bruegel, a food-culture historian, in an essay titled “Covid-19, Workday Lunch and the French Labor Code.” The government found that the best time to do this would be during the lunch hour, and so the French Labor Code was written to include a law that prevents lunch in the workplace.
Though it may seem a bit extreme for the government to mandate that people leave work to enjoy a lunch break, when you take a look at work/life balance in U.S. (or the lack thereof) it starts to sound like a pretty good idea.
As someone who sits in front of a laptop for eight hours a day just typing away (as I am literally doing so right now), burnout can sink in more quickly than I like to admit, not to mention, the strain that staring at a screen puts on my already contact-lens wearing self. But when there’s work that needs to be done, it can be hard to pull yourself away and allow yourself that much needed break midday. A policy that requires you to step away might be what’s needed in this hustle society.
Bruegel argues the benefits of regular lunch breaks for employees writing, “They are not only healthier people, they’re happier people. Their face-to-face conversations develop empathy. They’re more involved in work. Far from being slackers, they keep their performance and creativity up – and burn-outs away. Employees and employers profit from such a time-out.”
As for companies taking a productivity hit because workers are actually taking a real lunch break, well that’s just a bunch of bologna (pardon my French). Studies have shown that allowing breaks actually increases productivity instead of hindering it. On top of that, sending people out to eat and potentially buy lunch from businesses in the area can be an indirect way of helping to boost the local economy.
I’m not saying a law needs to be passed here in the U.S., but I think if companies took a look at all the benefits a policy like this can have not only for the employees but for the business itself, they’d start to consider making out-of- office lunches a regular part of their workplace culture.