Let them Eat Lunch
Part of a healthy lifestyle...
I stole the title of this post from the podcast Planet Money. I have listened to this podcast for many years. With their help, I have learned about macroeconomics, the purpose of the Fed, and how a t-shirt travels around the world. In this particular episode, they explored why there is a French law requiring one to leave their desk to eat lunch.
Yep, there Actually is a Law
Planet Money interviewed an American living and working in France. She disobeyed the law most days, instead, she ate a pre-made salad at her desk to get through her all-important to-do list. As I listened to the episode, I thought about the many lunches consumed at my desk.
But what if there was a law. A decree that you must leave your desk for 90-120 minutes. There was and is in France. I learned that Macron considered eliminating the law when a number of other workplace laws were amended. But knowing that it would be very controversial, he had someone do a study. They found there were many benefits to the law:
A large mid-day meal promoted healthy eating by reducing snacking;
People were more productive while working as they knew they had fewer hours in which to accomplish the task;
It promoted teamwork as employees ate together and learned more about their coworkers' “outside” lives.
In the end, they kept the law. And the American…well sometimes she still eats at her desk, but always finds a way to spend at least the last 30 minutes with her coworkers.
Don’t You Live in Portugal?
You might be asking why I am sharing a lesson on French culture when I live in Portugal. It is because, while there is no law it would appear the Portuguese have adopted a similar practice. We notice it more here than when we lived in Cascais. Nearly all the family-owned stores, I estimate about half of all the stores in the downtown VRSA close for lunch. “Fechado” signs hang in the window or door. And we aren’t talking 30 or 60 minutes. Typically the sign suggests a 90-120 minute window.
As an American, it is something that I have had to get used to. On more than one occasion, I made the six-block walk “into town” to find the hardware store, or corner grocery store closed.
When I was forced to go into a corporate office every day (about five years of my career) I tended to get to my desk about an hour before the suggested start time. Then, I attempted to tackle the things that required uninterrupted thought. Lunch was often a quick 20-minute lunch in the cafeteria, which typically included shop talk and perhaps a quick run to the bank. Then, when people talked about work-life balance, I didn’t think about the number of hours I worked each week, but rather the number of weeks I worked each year. (Note, I always took every vacation day allowed!)
But the French and the Portuguese, and I assume most European cultures have gotten it right. Life should not be suspended when we enter the workplace. One can offer a better work-life balance and also be productive.
With a new law barring work e-mail after hours1, the French have honored a truth long recognized by economists: working longer hours doesn’t necessarily result in increased productivity. Mexico—the least productive of the 38 countries listed in 2015 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—has the world’s longest average work week at 41.2 hours (including full-time and part-time workers). At the other end of the spectrum, Luxembourg, the most productive country, has an average workweek of just 29 hours. - Time.com
If you read the article referenced above you will find that Portugal is ranked 25th and the US is ranked 6th…but there is more to life than GDP per hour worked. As I wrote in my recent post on Why the Portuguese Live Longer the Portuguese “downshift” and taking a 2-hour lunch is part of it.
And if by chance, you are still working in corporate America and dreaming about the day you can escape, I want to recommend the following video. It is by a friend who lives on a small avocado farm in Florida. When Tom and I first met he was a programmer. He moved into sales and worked on my team for three or four years. I got burned out and resigned…he stayed on. When I returned five years later, I was working for him. He left corporate America before he turned 45. If you follow his advice I promise you you will start living your dream sooner.
Portugal also has this law.