New job, new office, new culture
July 15, 2014 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I need help figuring out what is okay to do at my new job. I just started a new job and I'm confused on what I'm supposed to be doing regarding my lunch breaks.

In my entire work history, I generally leave the office for 50-60% of my lunch breaks. I work in the city and I enjoy being able to run a lot of my errands at lunch. If I don't have errands, I often like to grab lunch with friends or business contacts. A lot of the time, I don't really feel like going out, so I'll just eat at my desk. It's never been a problem.

I started a new job at a small company a month ago and it's pretty much my dream job. I'm doing what I love and I'm good at it. However, this is a (very) small company (no HR) and pretty much no one ever takes a lunch. I'm not sure that everyone even takes their vacation time. And it's small enough that when anyone goes anywhere, everyone knows you're gone. I've had a lot of stuff I've been needing to do this summer and I've been using my lunch hour to run these errands. I haven't taken lunch every day, but I have probably most of the days so far. It's even more important for me to do it at this job because I have to be there until 5 and a lot of things I could previously do after work at my last place (where I left around 4:15), isn't possible when I'm leaving later. It's also important for me to take lunch because I get hyperfocused and will work on something for hours at a time so it's good for me to have a break. Additionally (and more philosophically), I always think it's important to take lunches and vacations and things because it's a person's right to take them and if they don't, they can set the expectation that they'll work all the time and make it harder on themselves if they ever do want to take it (not to mention making it harder for those who need to take the time off).

Anyway, I suspect I may be going against company culture here and causing raised eyebrows. Is it okay to take my lunch?? I would have thought it was but I am genuinely confused. I should also mention that I've been having a lot of work done on my house this year and one day a couple of weeks ago, someone had to come and look at something and the only time they could do it was the morning of one day the following week (I think my third week), and if they didn't come then they couldn't come again until the end of August at the earliest. So I asked if I could come a few hours late one day. I KNEW this was not ideal, but they had also told me that my vacation time was effective immediately when I interviewed for the position, so I thought it might be okay as a one-off (I have no other time off planned). I've been coming in early almost every day and my first two weeks and I've also stayed late about half the time (a few times I was the last to leave).

Given that I am literally the only one who takes their lunch most days, I feel like I stand out like a sore thumb. Should I not take lunches for the time being? I don't feel the need to take them religiously forever, but if I have other errands I need to run (which I do right now), they're valuable to me. I had a quick check-in with the manager a week ago and she didn't indicate that anything was wrong (I didn't bring any of this up and I don't really expect she'd tell me if they had a problem with me taking my lunch).

Please tell me if I'm doing anything wrong here or going against the company culture in a damaging way here. Most of the people are out the door at 5 sharp, so I don't feel guilty about leaving then, though I kind of wish that there were a little more flexibility rather than a strict adherence to hours. I have no problem putting extra hours in when I feel I need to, but I also then want to not feel guilty about not taking my lunch hour. I've always had jobs that were flexible about hours as long as basic core hours were met. My hours are 8-5 and I was hoping when I took the job that after awhile I could discuss possibly leaving around 4:30 (barring anything that needs to be done, obviously), seeing as I come in earlier and am more productive earlier than I am later. I'm kind of worried this won't be the case now. I may be approaching this the wrong way - any advice would be helpful.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you can't ask someone? None of us on the internet are going to be able to know what the office culture of this specific company dictates.

I would ask your boss, explaining what you did in your post, and see what they say.
posted by winna at 6:38 AM on July 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yeah, this is a question for one of your coworkers, not me. Ask someone, "When do people usually take lunch?" Then ask if it's OK to leave for lunch.
posted by John Cohen at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have a direct boss? I'd talk to her/him and say, "I noticed people here don't take lunch. I like to run errands during my lunch hour, but I also don't want to go against company culture or make you think I'm not a team player. Should I adjust my schedule?" Don't be confrontational, just curious. It's funny how people will follow each other. It could be that nobody takes a lunch because nobody takes a lunch, and if you start, they might start as well.
posted by xingcat at 6:51 AM on July 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

I've just been in this exact same position. I started a new job and no one seems to go out for their lunch, but at my last place I was used to everyone leaving for the hour, or at least congregating in the kitchen for that time. On my first day at the new place I didn't ask "Is it ok to take lunch?", instead I just asked "When is the lunch hour?" and from day one at that time I just said "Ok, I'll see you at 2." so that they'd know from the start that I'd be taking the time.

I don't think it's healthy for people not to take their lunch, for lots of reasons, and as you've found it can lead to a culture of people being afraid to do so in case it looks like slacking. Look at it the other way - if you start taking it then maybe other people will feel that they're also able to do it, so you'll actually be giving them a bit of freedom that maybe they've been afraid to take for themselves. I say go forth and lunch!
posted by billiebee at 6:52 AM on July 15, 2014 [22 favorites]

"When is a good time for me to go and eat lunch?"

If this question seems unreasonable to the intended recipient, find a new job.

A job that don't want ya fed ain't gonna feed ya.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:01 AM on July 15, 2014 [11 favorites]

Maybe invite a co-worker out to lunch, or arrange a pot-luck lunch for a special occasion (this is good for "silly" holidays but I am pulling a blank for something over the summer!)
posted by saucysault at 7:02 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Talk to your manager. It's a valid question and if there's no HR, then you need to confirm. Xingcat has it exactly right.

I can't imagine that it's not okay to leave for an hour in the middle of the day if that's what you want to do. But don't make it 90 minutes, 45 minutes to an hour.

I rarely take lunch, pretty much because I'm in a business park near the mall and it's a giant hassle. But if you want to leave I'm not raising my eyebrows.

As for asking to leave early, I'd put that on hold. I also wouldn't ask for Vacation time or anything like that either.

If this IS the culture, then you may want to re-evaluate your definition of your dream job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

From a managers perspective: There is nothing wrong with taking a lunch. In fact I insist that my minions do so. This false front of "working through lunch" only means that you are not efficient enough to find time for a break. Yes there are times, e.g. deadlines, when you may skip going to lunch. This should be the exception not the norm. That being said, If no one there has the brains to go out, then I would start asking co-workers to join you, when you don't have errands to run.
posted by Gungho at 7:17 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since it's a small office, make sure you know the state laws before you ask. Don't let them tell you "we don't pay for lunch" or "you really need to stay at your desk" if the law mandates otherwise.
posted by chaiminda at 7:30 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure it's legally required that you take a lunch. You are not being paid for your lunch hour (or half-hour or whatever) so if you want to give your employer free labor stay at your desk and keep working.

I'm not suggesting you take an adversarial stance but your unpaid time is yours to do with as you please.

My disclaimer here is that this is what "I" would do.
posted by eatcake at 7:45 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

You should definitely ask, as xingcat suggested. (Just FYI, I've never worked anywhere where people took a one hour lunch as a matter of course. Half hour was typical in some places; and in some of them working through lunch was more typical.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:06 AM on July 15, 2014

I really like saucysault's suggestion of taking a workmate to lunch.

If there's someone not a manager who's been there a few years that you click with, say "hey, could I take you to lunch some time next week to pick your brain about a few things?"

Then ask that person, at lunch, about how it looks like no one leaves the office and you're worried about running errands.
posted by colin_l at 8:19 AM on July 15, 2014

If you want to take your lunch, just do it. It's a completely reasonable expectation and no sane manager would make an issue of it as long as your work's getting done. If you start asking around, it's going to seem like you're asking for permission, which is not a good way to exude competence and confidence.
posted by ndg at 8:27 AM on July 15, 2014

Traditionally, at least in Western culture (I think), when you first start a new job, it's your time to prove yourself, for them to vet you a bit more to make sure they were right in their pick. It's a time when you are lowest on the totem pole and people will resent you for acting entitled.

So, yes, I kind of see you might be causing some resentment there. Are you actually entitled to take your lunches and vacation? Absolutely! Will people hold it against you? Quite possibly.

I work in a big company with an HR department and they seem to hold it against me for taking "a lot of sick days". I haven't used my full allotment. I actually still have something like 4.85 sick days left for the year. But about 17 months ago, I had a baby and I've found that with day care, or shall I call it the petri dish, because that's what day care seems to be with her getting sick every other week with the virus of the week...anyway, Yeah, the sick days I've taken in the last year have doubled and almost all of them are due to my child being sick. My wife is not able to take off time for that as she runs a business with no employees, which means she has to close her shop for the day if she has the sick baby.... I on the other hand, still have sick days accrued that I can use and get paid for.

Do they hold it against me? Absolutely. The boss keeps asking me how my child is and if she's getting better. This is like 3 weeks after I've taken the last sick day. I'm like, "yeah, she's been fine for a while. She just had a bad reaction to an immunisation shot. She was covered in hives all over her body for a day and I was worried and took her to the doctor...but that was 3 weeks ago, you know, so she's fine now. Thanks for asking."

Then she's all like, "Oh glad to hear it. Just make sure you log all your sick days. Did you log that day by the way?"

"Yes, I did, you approved it. I've got an email. Actually you asked 3 times for me to log it now and at least two of them were after you actually approved the sick leave for your concern..."

Anyway, when first starting out, you should probably just keep your head low, do a bit more than everyone else, and not act entitled. Otherwise, officially, they should not hold it against you...but unofficially, they most definitely will...

Sorry for the incomplete and run-on sentences and off grammar. I've had a bit too much to drink tonight.
posted by cicadaverse at 8:34 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ask for your lunch hour. It is not entitlement to get a hour for lunch, my God, there were major labor battles fought for these workplace rights.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:30 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

You've left out a very important detail. Your implication's nobody takes a lunch break, ie nobody's leaving the office, but...

What are your co-workers doing at noon, exactly?

Does everyone break out the brown bags and eat at their desks?

Or could it be yours is an environment where everybody's continually 'grazing' hence there is no designated lunch time??
posted by Rash at 9:32 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I, too, work at a small company where for a long time there was no HR. People didn't really take lunch breaks, they just sort of ate food at their desks while doing things.

I started leaving for lunch--or if I ate in the office, very visibly shutting down (turning monitors off, pulling out a book) and taking a proper break. Eventually other people started to take proper lunches, and new hires weren't scared to take lunches, and now lunch is A Thing that includes a catered lunch in the office once a week.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Notify whomever you need to notify that you're taking lunch and will be back at [time], then peace out. Don't feel bad about it at all.
posted by phunniemee at 9:34 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Any place I've worked where lunch breaks weren't respected were places I didn't work for very long.

You're a human being, not a robot. Take your lunch and don't have guilt about it.
posted by medeine at 9:41 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, first of all, your previous job (an hour lunch everyday AND leaving at 4:15) was unusual. I'd immediately stop expecting other jobs to be like that. That job was the exception, the place you work at now is the norm. Every place I've worked at, people eat at their desks. People get along fine with working 9-5 without lunch breaks all the time. You're making it sound like this is an impossible situation. People do errands after 5 or before work or on weekends. It's not really that complicated. If your errands are things like, go to the bank, go to the post office, go shopping, get a pedicure, etc. etc. Those are all things that can be done outside of work hours.

That being said, just take the lunch break because there's something to be said about setting up expectations. I started a new job where I wanted to come in at 10:30 everyday rather than 9. So instead of coming it at 9 for a while and gradually starting to come in later, I started coming in at 10:30 right off the bat, while working hard to kick ass at my job. I think it set up the expectation of what is normal for me very well. They already saw me doing a good job, and they saw me doing it whilst coming in late. If I had done well and came in at 9 everyday, if I suddenly started showing up at 10:30, there might've been the perception that I was starting to slack, whether it was true or not. So just take your lunch but also make sure you are doing a good job at work. If you are doing your job and doing it well, it's hard for anyone to complain about anything.

I know people would argue the opposite way, that you should prove yourself first and then start taking liberties like coming in late and going out for lunch breaks. Personally, I just don't see when that vetting period really ends. Maybe when you are promoted and you are senior staff and don't have a direct supervisor keeping tabs on you? That could take quite a while. I think you can prove yourself WHILE taking the liberties you want and show they don't interfere with each other.

On top of all of that, I personally wouldn't ask about lunch breaks. There's the chance someone will tell you that it's really not how they do things there, and then you are in the bind of having to heed that guideline. You should do what you want and try to set up the culture. And asking about it makes it "A Thing." Just do it like it doesn't matter and it probably won't matter.

All of my advice assumes this is a certain type of office environment that is a results-oriented work environment and not a nitpicky, micromanaging weird place to work. If you actually think they are that worried about your lunch breaks and it could actually really hurt you, then suck it up and don't take them.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:52 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

To counter cicadaverse somewhat, I think that at the beginning of a professional job, you should act entitled to (1) whatever your contract entitles you to, and (2) reasonable treatment as a human being. (By "act entitled", I don't mean "make speeches about your dignity as a worker", I mean "act like it isn't even a question".)

Assuming you're doing your job well, this approach can earn you respect from management (see Gungho's comment) and co-workers (I love my co-workers who stand up for themselves as professionals, because they help set expectations that benefit all of us). More importantly, this approach improves your chances of actually getting (1) and (2), which you should be getting. If taking lunch devalues you in the eyes of your employers, then you probably aren't going to be happy working there long-term.
posted by aws17576 at 11:18 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ask. My last job(retail!) NO one took lunch. Even all day shifts. It was just the culture. We made up for it in other ways.

Just ask your boss. It isn't an unreasonable question and they won't get mad if you ask.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:39 PM on July 15, 2014

Is there actually a state where it's legal to deny your workers their lunch?

Here, our sanitation people were lumping their breaks and lunch together at the end of the day so they could get off earlier, and the city came down on them, hard. (Personally, I think it was unfair. You should be able to do that if it's what you want and your employer is okay with it.) That said, any job that wants me to work for 9 hours (9-5 with no lunch is indeed 9 hours, not the usual 8) a day had best be paying that extra hour as overtime.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 4:18 PM on July 15, 2014

Again, I have to ask: are they just not eating at all, or having lunch at their desks while still working, or just sitting at their desks from noon to one even if it involves surfing the net?

It probably depends on your work climate. Technically you CAN and at least should be able to, but do people look down on you for leaving? If the latter is the case, then maybe you should do half lunches in and half lunches out to somewhat cave into the culture while still trying to get your shit done.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:54 PM on July 15, 2014

« Older "Reboot" an inherited composter?   |   Tiny Dog Life Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.