Survey says fear of judgment is a major factor.

By Tim Nelson
June 05, 2019
Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

It’s 2:30, and you haven’t eaten lunch yet. With a constant crush of meetings and deliverables, the idea of sitting and enjoying a leisurely meal away from a screen—even on a beautiful late-spring day—is almost unfathomable. So instead, you grab the least depressing-looking sandwich you see at the store and rush back upstairs to your desk to answer more emails. 

The lunch break, a supposed hallmark of previous workplace generations, feels like a pipe dream for many millennials, and now there’s some survey data to prove it. Napkin company Tork commissioned a survey of 1,600 North American workers, and the data they compiled strongly suggests that millennials (defined here as people between 18-35) experience some strong lunch break FOMO. 

According to the data, millennials are certainly interested in taking lunch breaks. Sixty-two percent of polled millennials say they’d take a longer lunch break if it was possible, compared to 46 percent of boomers. Forty-four percent of millennials say they look forward to taking a lunch break, compared to 36 percent of burnt out gen Xers who are presumably too cool to enjoy anything. Heck, 16 percent of millennials would take a pay cut of 10 percent to ensure daily lunch breaks. 

Of course, workplace perceptions make it difficult for millennials to feel like eating away from their desk is even on the table. Thirty-seven percent of millennials don’t feel “empowered” to take a proper lunch break at work. Roughly 1 out of 4 millennials fear their bosses will negatively judge their productivity and work ethic if they take a lunch break. Millennials are also three times more likely than boomers to believe their coworkers would similarly hold negative opinions of them for taking a lunch break. 

In essence, there’s a definite imbalance between how millennials want to do lunch and what they feel like they can get away with. Given that most jobs demands constant availability and productivity from millennial employees, often replacing work-life balance with access to an office beer fridge or ping pong table, it’s no surprise that so many young people spend their early afternoons spilling salad on keyboards. Perhaps as more millennials move into roles that grant them control over corporate culture, “lunch break” will cease to be a dirty word. 

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