Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

College of Liberal and Fine Arts


Study Looks at Lunch Break Recovering or Fatiguing

September 16, 2013

Academy of Management Journal will publish a paper co-authored by Dr. Daniel Beal, Associate Professor of Psychology.

Research Tidbit: Lunch Break Recovering or Fatiguing– Depends on How Much Control You Perceive to Have Over Your Lunch Break!
Lay wisdom suggests that socializing with others during your lunch break will replenish your energy, while continuing to work during the lunch break will deplete your energy. Not necessarily: it will depend on how much control you feel you have over your lunch break!
New research from Dr. Ivona Hideg (Wilfrid Laurier University), Dr. John Trougakos (University of Toronto), doctoral student Bonnie Cheng (University of Toronto) and Daniel Beal (University of Texas at San Antonio) shows that a key factor in whether employees’ lunch break activities are replenishing or fatiguing is whether employees perceive they have control over how their lunch breaks. The same activity we engage in during a lunch break may have opposite effects on our fatigue depending on whether we perceive that we had a choice over engaging in that activity or not. For example, this research showed that socializing or continuing to work during the lunch increased fatigue for employees who felt that they did not have a choice over their lunch break activities. By contrast, socializing and continuing to work reduced fatigue for employees who felt that they had a choice over their lunch break activities. This research has important implications for workplace and employees’ well-being, organizational culture, and HR practices and policies regarding lunch breaks.


Work recovery research has focused mainly on how after-work break activities help employees replenish their resources and reduce fatigue. Given that employees spend a considerable amount of time at work, understanding how they can replenish their resources during the workday is critical. Drawing on Ego Depletion (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000) and Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985), we employed multisource experience sampling methods to test the effects of a critical boundary condition, employee lunch break autonomy, on the relation between lunch break activities and end-of-workday fatigue. Although specific energy-relevant activities had main effects on end-of-workday fatigue, each of these effects was moderated by the degree of autonomous choice associated with the break. Specifically, for activities that supported the psychological needs of relatedness and competence (i.e., social and work activities, respectively), as lunch break autonomy increased, effects switched from increasing fatigue to reducing fatigue. To the extent that lunch break activities involved relaxation, however, lunch break autonomy was only important when levels of relaxation were low. We conclude that lunch break autonomy plays a complex and pivotal role in conferring the potential energetic benefits of lunch break activities. Contributions to theory and practice are discussed.


Trougakos, J. P., Hideg, I., Cheng, B. H., & Beal, D. J. (forthcoming). Lunch breaks unpacked: The role of autonomy as a moderator of recovery during lunch. Academy of Management Journal.

The full article is forthcoming at the Academy of Management Journal.


« Back to News