working through lunch hurts your career

You’re doing this to get ahead, but it’s actually setting you back at work

You’re a girl on the go, dreaming of being a real #girlboss one day if you aren’t already. That means you always go the extra mile, double check what you hand in, and can always be found at your desk working through lunch. It seems like the perfect way to sneak more work into the standard day, but that last habit might be what’s holding you back at the office.

There’s social pressure to keep working through lunch; it’s standard across many offices these days, where the lunch hour that used to be controlled no longer is. But I’m going to tell you to take it. Ideally, take all 60 minutes and take them outside of the office. If it really isn’t feasible right now, start at 30, and get yourself out of the cubicle cave whenever possible.

No, of course we’re not talking about lunch meetings or client lunches, which are required and can actually serve as a welcome break from your day even while business gets done. The habit we’re talking about it lingering at your desk to type another report, file another story, or answer more emails while you mindless pick at your lunch.

Why you should stop working through lunch

Packing the healthiest lunch possible won’t do anything to counter how working through lunch is hurting you. (We won’t go into the physical side effects of staying glued to your office chair from 9 to 5, at least right now.) Here’s why stepping away from your desk can be the best thing you do all day for your mind, body and, yes, even your career.

You’re actually getting less done

You think more minutes at your desk mean more chances to get things done, but you’re actually undercutting your own productivity. Your concentration isn’t steady all day, so taking a break when it dips allows you maximize the time when it’s high. “Most people accomplish work best in short bursts with breaks in between, so organizing your schedule around these natural energy peaks will help you be more productive,” Alexandra Levit, the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, told Forbes.

Instead of sitting there trying to hammer through times of low concentration, use it in favor of your physical health or personal life. Getting your body moving by taking a walk outside, which reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, will allow you to come back to your desk recharged — without the jittery feeling and anxiety of yet another cup of coffee. Checking things off of your personal to-do list, like running to the post office, can also tame outside work worries so you can tackle your afternoon to-do list without nagging thoughts.

working through lunch outside

You could be networking

Networking can feel like a nasty word, but forging personal connections with your coworkers doesn’t have to feel that way. Instead of putting in facetime at that post-work happy hour, ask one coworker each week to each lunch with you outside the office or even just grab a cup of coffee (maybe make it decaf). A true connection can thrive one-on-one when you’re away from work. While having those human relationships with your coworkers can help you get ahead if your paths cross again elsewhere, they’ll also help the two of you work together where you are now — which will only impress the big boss. Understanding what they care about, what’s going on in their lives, and how they think about these things can shed light on how best to work with them — and even help you understand that it’s not personal if they’re grumpy one morning.

Connecting with your coworkers on things other than the office can also help both of you feel like you want to come to work. If you’re all people collaborating, and not just cogs in a giant corporate machine, work feels like like, well, work. You might just make a new friend who can understand more than anyone what you’re feeling when work hits a rough patch.

You’re burning yourself out

Let’s face it, working through lunch and checking your work email when you’re off the clock often go hand-in-hand. With no time to rest and recharge your battery, you’re rushing headlong into a professional burn out. That’s not to say you don’t love your job; everyone needs time to recuperate in order to attack the tasks at hand with renewed energy.

If you really do love your job and plan on climbing the corporate ladder where you are right now, taking care of yourself and your stress levels will only help your cause. Switching your working through lunch routine with a restorative break will lower your stress levels, showing your boss that you’re calm while you tick off task after task. Remember those benefits we mentioned to getting to know and understand your coworkers? Those will convince your boss that you’re management material when they see you collaborating without conflict. Do you see that corner office getting closer?

How to stop working through lunch like a pro

Pull the plug on working through lunch and make yourself look more professional all at once by instituting a plan for while you’re out of office. Make sure you have an away message that lists a way to get a hold of you in case there’s an emergency and a backup contact for standard issues.Taking the initiative to do this on your own from the beginning — instead of when asked a couple weeks in — shows you’re a consummate professional, even when you’re out of office.

2 thoughts on “You’re doing this to get ahead, but it’s actually setting you back at work

    1. Please do and let me know how it goes! Taking time to eat lunch outside followed by a short walk has improved my mood, performance and afternoon sugar cravings. Hope you have the same results

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