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What do you do at lunch?

By Andrea Calabretta

States mandate at least a half-hour break for lunch in an eight-hour workday. Take a look at our survey responses to find out what young professionals do on their lunch breaks (other than eat, of course!).

According to the Department of Labor website (, most states mandate that employees be allowed at least a half-hour break for lunch during an eight-hour workday.

But lunch hour etiquette varies widely across industries (and even between offices within the same industry). Some places encourage workers to take an hour to themselves. Others, while not explicitly saying so, make clear that eating lunch at your desk, while working, is the expected thing to do. Indeed, 15% of our respondents said "Lunch? What lunch?" They reported regularly spending their lunch hours working. One respondent, Lillian, said "My new (remote) manager has scheduled 1-on-1 meetings right over my lunch hour on a weekly basis." Aziz, in Real Estate, takes prospectives and clients out to lunch and is careful "never to miss a meal."

But just as many people (16%) report socializing at lunchtime with coworkers, friends, partners, or family members. "I meet my husband in the park for lunch everyday," one respondent wrote. Lynn in Publishing told us, "If I eat lunch with colleagues, I insist they not talk about work."

Others spend their break time in very creative ways. "I write novels," C. in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing industry said. Vladi in Software reports going to the Frog Pond in downtown Boston to ice skate on his lunch hour, and Sean in IT plays poker on his cell phone. Molly, who works in Travel, goes to a nearby train station to people-watch amidst the passengers arriving and departing. Ashley, an Event Planner in DC, walks to the White House, the national monuments and the Smithsonian museums.

A number of respondents talked about their gaming pursuits during lunch hours: playing cards, board games, or honing their Scrabble skills: "I am an active club and tourney Scrabble player, and I find lunch is one of the few times in my busy life that I can study words and do puzzles relating to learning words for Scrabble. I will tend to go to a restaurant with my Scrabble dictionary and either a word-a-day Scrabble calendar or a newsletter with quizzes," said Mike in Software Development.

Many people exercise, read (or listen to books on tape), and even watch TV on their time off. Colleen in the Environmental industry, catches up on blogs and email, and occasionally watches What Not to Wear. Joseph, who works in Entertainment, says, "This is a great time to get caught up on the daily industry trades, especially since I work in NYC and the majority of entertainment is LA-based. I'm caught up on all the breaking stories by the time lunch is over, and LA is just opening, so I haven't missed the boat."

Some respondents are quite enterprising on their lunch hours, when they "use the time to mail packages sold on eBay"(Kenneth) or "search for other jobs" (Kandace). One worker, who chose to remain anonymous, told us that he uses his lunch hour to "complain about the job market."

Check out the break-down of responses below.

What do you do at lunch?

Survey respondents said they?

  1. socialize (16%)
  2. work (15%)
  3. read (12%)
  4. exercise (8%)
  5. watch TV (8%)
  6. surf the Internet (7%)
  7. go for a walk (7%, of whom a whopping 60% walk their dogs)
  8. play cards or board games (5%)
  9. go shopping/run errands (5%)
  10. job search for other jobs (4%)
  11. pay bills (2%)
  12. do homework (2%)
  13. talk on the phone (2%)
  14. pray (2%)
  15. go home (2%)
  16. rest (1%)

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