There’s a fine line between a lunch spent laughing alone with salad and one with a sad desk salad. According to a new poll on factors that lead women to quit their jobs, workplace policies could make the difference.
In a study of 400 workers commissioned by TINYPulse (a tech company that makes tools to help organizations measure employee satisfaction), women who worked at companies that encouraged or obligated them to work through lunch were more likely to want to leave their jobs within the next six months than those who were able to take lunch breaks. Meanwhile, the survey’s male respondents were more likely to intend to quit if they were given a lunch break.
Why do women care more about the midday meal than men? When employers give their workers breaks, whether in the form of lunch hours or vacation time, it’s a sign that they value their employees’ well-being, appreciate their efforts, and trust them to get their work done. TINYPulse’s survey shows that women feel less valued by their employers across the board: They perceive their benefits and salaries to be lower relative to the industry standard than men do; they feel they receive less recognition from their peers; and they report worse onboarding experiences and less freedom on work projects. Women may see a culture of desk lunches as one more way their employers take their hard work for granted while shorting them much needed recharge time.
A 2013 study indicated that lunch autonomy might matter more than lunch location: Employees who choose to work through lunch are less fatigued at the end of the day than those whose bosses force them to feed at their desks. In TINYPulse’s poll, women reported feeling burned out at higher rates than men, even though they received less pressure to work overtime. This gender discrepancy in attitudes toward overtime has been credited with upholding the wage gap.
Then again, the women surveyed were twice as likely as men to receive no paid time off from work and—due to the pressure of domestic responsibilities—women are more stressed at home than at work on weekdays. A lunch hour could be an important mental respite for those who don’t get one when they clock out at day’s end.
What to make of male employees’ contempt for the lunch break? It could be that employees who already feel valued see being asked to work through lunch as a testament to their importance to the company. Or maybe men are such high-functioning beings that they’ve evolved past the need for a midday meal. Thanks to helpful trend pieces from the likes of the New York Times, we know for certain that women eat lunch. Do men? If so, they don’t seem to care where.