Always Take Lunch and Other Ways to Stay Engaged

What makes people happy and engaged at work?

I met Tony Schwartz, CEO of the consulting firm The Energy Project, back in the spring of 2010, when he was spreading out red-and-white checked cloths on the grass at Madison Square Park in New York City, inviting passerbys to take a real lunch break as part of a “Take Back Your Lunch” campaign.

Almost no one takes more than 20 minutes for lunch, and 25 percent of people don’t leave their desks at all, Schwartz said then, to the detriment of our work as well as our health.

Recently, Schwartz has brought additional research to bear on the idea that we actually are less creative and less focused when we ignore our basic needs — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual — and more productive when we pay attention to them.

Schwartz partnered with the Harvard Business Review to survey more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees about their workplaces. Combined with research from Schwartz’s own clients, the evidence is overwhelming in favor of breaks, not just for lunch, but at regular intervals. According to the survey, employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day, as well as nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well being.

Overall, Schwartz and co-author Christine Porath concluded in a New York Times story, “The way people feel at work profoundly influences how they perform. What our study revealed is just how much impact companies can have when they meet each of the four core needs of their employees.”

Along with the ability to take breaks, the survey identified three more things that engaged employees have in common:

They feel valued: “Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.”

They can focus on one task at time: “Only 20 percent of respondents said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, but those who could were 50 percent more engaged.”

They have sense of purpose: Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.

If you are wondering what this has to do with the meetings industry, we have our own survey results to share. In Convene‘s 2014 Salary Survey, along with information about compensation, which you can read here, we also collected anecdotal evidence about what people most liked and most hated about their jobs. You can read the love/hate list here.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.