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Do You Eat Lunch Alone At Your Desk? Why We Need to Reclaim Our Lunch Break

Lunchtime is endangered. We need to fight back before it goes extinct.

Lunchtime: the time when you walk away from work to sit down and eat, talk and laugh with your coworkers. It’s a time to be social, to relax, to recharge…

Wait, this doesn’t sound like lunchtime to you?

Perhaps it’s because with the ever-increasing demand on workers, lunch breaks seem to be gradually disappearing.

“I think workers are feeling an immense pressure to work through their lunch,” said David Wehde, AFL-CIO organizing director. “With the demands of productivity from workers going up and up, we’ve seen workers laid off and not replaced, so the work just gets spread around.”

A recent study shows that people work an additional 16 days a year when they fail to take their hour-long lunch break. Wehde said he believes the reason workers put up with these harsh working conditions is because they don’t know their rights. Still, shockingly only 22 states in the United States require some form of a lunch break. Lunch breaks are not required by federal law, and for many hourly-wage workers, lunch breaks are unpaid. 

“It’s a pretty raw deal,” Wehde said.

A few weeks ago, Applebee’s launched a new campaign offering a solution to the fading lunch break (below). The initiative, called “Lunch Decoy,” encourages workers to reclaim their lunch break by replacing themselves with a blow-up doll: “Simply inflate the decoy. Place at your desk. And then slip off for the lunch you deserve.” And yes, the chain restaurant is actually selling these blow-up dolls for $6.99 on Amazon. The dolls come in six different characters, including  “The Overachiever” and “The Cubicle Queen.”

“When we asked people why aren’t you getting out for lunch, they said they were worried about what their boss would think … or what would their coworkers think,” said Shannon Scott, Applebee’s executive director of marketing and communications. “So we thought, well, let’s come up with a way that nobody’s the wiser that you left the office. We’ll have the lunch decoy … to hold down the fort at the office while you’re out enjoying your lunch.’”

Scott said it’s too early to tell if the initiative has affected sales, but that there has been plenty of traffic to the site and after just one week out, they sold through more than half of their lunch decoy inventory.

Surely, the goal of their campaign is to ultimately convince workers to eat lunch at Applebee’s. (Even McDonald’s uses a labor-rights theme, pushing for workers to take lunch breaks, in its recent advertisement.) But it does raise some important questions about lunch breaks and how they’re slowly becoming a thing of the past.

In fact, a survey released last year found that 62 percent of workers with desk jobs eat lunch at their desk. Fifty-two percent bring lunch from home and eat it at their desk, while 23 percent purchase lunch from a restaurant or cafeteria and eat it at their desk. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they eat at a restaurant or cafeteria, while 27 percent bring lunch from home and eat it somewhere else, and 9 percent said other. Respondents were allowed to answer with more than one option if they did not have the same lunch routine everyday.

A majority of respondents said they eat at their desks to save time. 

“I eat alone at my desk in my office while still sort of working,” said Jennifer Goss, who does billing for a nonprofit behavioral health agency. “I seldom take breaks, as there is always something that must be done, or emails to answer, etc. I'm trying to learn to at least take a couple minutes to rest my eyes.”