What's the key to a stress-relieving, energy-boosting lunch break? A quiet meal alone? Noshing with friends? Grabbing a bite at your desk? Actually, a surprising new study shows that how you spend your midday break matters less than whether or not you have the choice to lunch on your own terms.
"Need for autonomy is a fundamental psychological need, and past research shows that a feeling of autonomy is energizing on its own," study co-author Dr. Ivona Hideg, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Wilfrid Laurier University's School of Business in Canada, told The Huffington Post in an email. "More specifically to lunch breaks, having autonomy over our lunch break activities gives us an opportunity to utilize our time in a way that suits us the best."
Dr. Hideg and her colleagues surveyed 103 administrative workers at a large university, asking them how they spent their lunch breaks over a 10-day period, The Atlantic reported. The researchers then asked each person's co-workers how tired that person appeared by the end of each work day.
"We found that a critical element was having the freedom to choose whether to [work through lunch] or not," study co-author Dr. John Trugakos, associate professor in the department of management at the University of Toronto, said in a written statement. "The autonomy aspect helps to offset what we had traditionally thought was not a good way to spend break time."
Based on their findings, the researchers were able to link common lunchtime activities with levels of fatigue:
- Relaxing activities during lunch that you personally choose to do may lead to the least amount of reported fatigue at the end of the day.
- Getting work done during lunch may result in appearing more tired, but that effect is reduced when the choice to work was your own personal decision.
- Socializing may lead to higher levels of fatigue if you're with people you can't necessarily kick back and be yourself with, such as certain co-workers or your boss.
"For somebody in a high-autonomy job, I actually spend a lot of my lunches working," Dr. Hideg said. "I also enjoy social lunches, connecting with colleagues and/or friends. I think autonomy really helps us use our time more wisely and allows us to arrange our activities and time in a way that makes us less fatigued and stressed."
This study is scheduled for publication in the October issue of the Academy of Management Journal.