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My boss has recently asked us to attend a presentation during lunch. This will be a recurring thing at least once a month.

However, I am not paid for my lunch, so I consider this to be my own time even when I’m still in the building. My lunch is often interrupted by various staff members who are still working (and have an earlier/later lunch) and come to me with queries. I always try to be a team player and respond to them, even leaving my lunch on occasion to help an individual. However, my boss is planning to use my lunch in advance for the duration of my lunch break, so I feel this is different.

What can I do? We are incredibly busy, so I really need that half hour as a breather. Equally, if I take a half hour lunch somewhere outside of that half our presentation, I’ll be even further behind on my own work.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Dec 2 '18 at 7:01
  • Ask your boss if you can eat your lunch during that presentation, if you can bring your meal with you to the presentation room. As long as you're not presenting, there's nothing stopping you from eating and watching the presentation at the same time (except maybe if you're eating a meat with the bones). – Galaxy Sep 1 at 20:47

13 Answers 13

113

There are two issues here I think. First issue is lunch itself.

Put it on your boss. When they send you the meeting request, simply ask:

This is clashing with my lunch. Do you want me to break for lunch earlier(or later)?

If your schedule is packed outside your lunch hours, make your boss aware of that:

This is clashing with my lunch and I cannot move my lunch because of X,Y,Z meetings. Is it okay if I skip this presentation?

Second issue is you falling back on your work. I do not think this has anything to do with lunch. It is simply about your boss giving you more work than the time you have. Again, ask your boss:

I would love to attend the presentation but I need to finish this task by end of the day. Are we okay to finish this task later?

In summary, present your constraint to your boss and let them take a call on which task is important! Enjoy your lunch!

  • 48
    @JoeStrazzere If that is the case and occurs often, then OP knows Boss is not willing to help and wants his employees to work on unpaid time. They can decide next steps accordingly – PagMax Nov 29 '18 at 15:36
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    @JoeStrazzere I wouldn’t quit over that for sure and I don’t think OP should either. All I am saying is OP should present the situation the way it is and then they at least know where their boss stands. – PagMax Nov 29 '18 at 15:46
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    @JoeStrazzere In which case you could respond, "I'd be happy to. How should I record the time so that I get paid for this meeting?" I get that you're the ultimate company man, but companies shouldn't demand their employees work for free, period. And employees should of course not put up with that kind of ridiculous nonsense. Of course, the best situation is to be salaried, where it doesn't matter. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Nov 29 '18 at 22:58
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    @JoeStrazzere "No. Just bring your lunch to the meeting." - That would not be legal in Europe - full time workers are entitled to a break by law. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 30 '18 at 10:14
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    Sorry, I already have meetings scheduled during my lunch.... phone calls with family, meeting friends, piano lesson, gym etc. which I'm willing to reschedule by an hour either way, but not cancel. – UKMonkey Nov 30 '18 at 10:22
46

Unless you actually have a set lunch time, just take your lunch at a different time.

Where I work, most of my colleague are in a different time zone (1hr difference). I often spend my normal lunch time in teleconferences because they don't always think before scheduling the meetings. I just take my lunch earlier or later. If your lunch is at a set time just approach your boss and say:

Hi boss, because the presentation is scheduled during our lunch hour, would you mind if I take my lunch at X instead of Y.

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    I think this is what OP’s boss had in mind in the first place and OP is coming to the wrong conclusions. If my boss asked me to attend a meeting at 11:30 he probably wouldn’t consider it as a request/demand to skip lunch break. It would be understood that I simply shift my break. – Michael Nov 30 '18 at 12:15
  • This addresses half the question, the other half is how to handle the reduction in the amount of work that will get done if he does this. (And the answer to that is to let your boss do his job. Let him know that this time will have to come from something and let him choose what it comes from.) – David Schwartz Nov 30 '18 at 18:39
  • A better way to think of this question would be 'boss wants to schedule a meeting in my usual lunch time' – user90842 Nov 30 '18 at 18:58
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    @Michael I disagree. If the meeting is billed as a "Lunch-and-learn" or a "brown-bag" the expectation is clear that you would eat your lunch during the meeting. In those cases, it may be possible to take a 30-minute non-eating break before or after, but depending on work culture it may not be that simple. – Tin Man Nov 30 '18 at 20:17
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    @Walt A "lunch break" is a break around lunchtime. Whether you use it to eat lunch or not is your business. A meeting is not a break. Just as a person who doesn't like to eat around lunchtime would be as entitled to a lunch break as anyone else, eating lunch while working is not a substitute for a lunch break. Hourly workers should be paid for any time they have work responsibilities. – David Schwartz Dec 1 '18 at 0:04
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If you fill out a timesheet to account for what projects you work on every day, you can always ask your boss "What project number do I bill the presentation to?" That will get the point across that you are not interested in taking training on your own time.

IF they give you a number, then find a time before or after the presentation to take your break. If the presentation causes a project completion/milestone/submission to be delayed, point this out to your boss/manager and ask how they would like you to proceed.

7

If you are not required to participate in the presentation, just bring your lunch to the presentation. Heck, if the presentation isn't mission-critical, just eat your lunch and zone out of the presentation so you can relax.

If your job is so stressful that you feel you need a hard 30-minute break to decompress (and can't decompress throughout the day periodically e.g. by grabbing a drink, coffee, snack, taking a walk outside, etc), then you should probably find another job.

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    +1 My company used to have seldom Lunch&Learn sessions with similar setting. You can have your lunch and still listen to presentation which is not mission-critical, but contains valuable updates from related business segment or technology and how the company implements them etc. If it is once per 30 or 60 or 90 days, and there is nothing urgent, it creates no issue. It is like watching a TV programme during a lunch. – miroxlav Nov 29 '18 at 18:44
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    Bonus: Since you're at the presentation, you're far less likely to have your lunch interrupted by a staff member on those days. – Dan Henderson Nov 29 '18 at 19:16
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    Management would have to find things that would be more like work but also conducive to not using one's hands (as one would have their hands occupied eating food). That may prove prohibitively difficult. – Ertai87 Nov 30 '18 at 6:46
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    If the company offers interesting things to do at lunch that are voluntary and not really work, I don't see a problem. If there's a mandatory work session during lunch, I see a problem. – David Thornley Nov 30 '18 at 22:52
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    People eating meals in presentations is really annoying and quite rude. It makes noise and it smells. Please don't be that person. – Lightness Races with Monica Dec 2 '18 at 1:44
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First, you need to be consistent regarding your lunch period. You mention that you are not paid for your lunch yet you allow others to interrupt your lunch and at times leave your lunch to help them. If this is how you want to handle your lunch, then it is not unreasonable to attend one half hour presentation a month during lunch.

As for the presentation during lunch, if it absolutely has to be during your lunch period then take your lunch to the presentation. You don't need to ask for permission, you are entitled to a lunch ( you aren't getting paid for that time ) so take your lunch. If it is indeed just a presentation, I am sure nobody will mind if you are eating and you probably can just sit back and listen while you eat.

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    I agree with this point. If you let everyone disturb you during lunch then you make yourself available during lunch. why shouldn't your boss use your lunch time like your colleagues already do? – user1 Nov 30 '18 at 11:54
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    I disagree. People coming to you (and you not getting stroppy about it) is one thing. You getting up and going to them is a different thing. Reluctantly permitting the former does not at all equate to agreeing to the latter. – Lightness Races with Monica Dec 2 '18 at 1:46
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Sure there are many great answers about how you could vocalize your concerns and suggestions on how you can get that time back, but is 30 minutes per month really worth pushing back?

I personally would eat this one.

Of course as in every relationship there is a little give and take. If your boss is consistently taking and not doing any giving then push back or GTFO.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Dec 2 '18 at 7:01
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I highly recommend putting a blocker in your meeting calendar. This is really the easiest thing, especially if you work in a big corporation and people from different time zones are unaware.

I have a Lunch Blocker setup mo-fr (12-1pm) in my calendar

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    Hi @jens ! While your idea has merit (I do the same), it reads as a "Try this !" answer, which lacks explanation on why you think it's a good thing to do. – breversa Nov 30 '18 at 16:04
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    I would think a Manager would probably want to know what is occupying that time slot. They would certainly be within their rights to ask about it. – Time4Tea Nov 30 '18 at 18:13
  • If a blocked-out lunch break actully flies in your organisation, fair enough, but most likely your boss will say, "I know you've got a block in your calendar, but you need to go to this presentation, so make that happen. Thanks". Obviously that gives you the opportunity to say, "OK, I'll move my lunch to 1-2". And them the opportunity to say "that doesn't work either". But at least you've open the subject for discussion, which is better than worrying about it :-) – Steve Jessop Dec 1 '18 at 16:58
  • @Time4Tea: if you're blocking an hour each day for lunch, it should have "lunch" written on it in the calendar right from the start. As you say, your boss is entitled to know your daily schedule, and furthermore it's not as if there's any hiding the fact that's what it is. – Steve Jessop Dec 1 '18 at 17:01
2

Without knowing your location, you'll want to look into the laws in your country/state/region/city/etc.

In the USA, there is unfortunately no Federal law that states you must have a lunch break.

"Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks." https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/workhours/breaks

However, there are some states that give you this ability.

Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia all have laws about meal breaks." https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/labor-employment/b/labor-employment-top-blogs/posts/states-with-pro-employee-laws-work-breaks-for-employees

If your location has laws about lunch and other breaks, you will need the gumption to self-enforce those laws. Don't let others interrupt your lunch, except for specific situations you set for yourself. And if your lunch IS interrupted, you should consider it paused. Once the interruption is over, continue your break (and the clock) from where it was interrupted.

Example: Getting interrupted 5 minutes into your lunch for 90 minutes doesn't mean your lunch ended 65 minutes ago, it means you have 25 more minutes to finish eating.

Also, most interruptions aren't emergencies. Even when people think they are emergencies, they really aren't.

Example 1: "The web server is unresponsive and needs to be rebooted." This is an emergency. Your customers don't have a way to find or contact the company, or possibly process orders.

Example 2: "This new customer needs a logo ASAP." This is not an emergency, even if that logo should have been brought to you yesterday/last week/last month due to a deadline today.

Even if there are no laws and your employer simply gives you the ability to take breaks, you still need to take them. Too many people don't and get stressed, burnt out, or overwhelmed even faster. I'm a bad one for not taking short breaks, but I definitely take lunch. It's where I can let my brain take a break and get some calories flowing again.

Oftentimes, those breaks are where your mind has the ability to sub-consciously figure out a stubborn problem for you.

Yes, your mind needs breaks, too. Simply stuffing more and more information into your head does you little to no good if your brain doesn't have the time or energy to process that information.

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I think the least confrontational - and most cooperative - thing to do is simply take your half hour once the meeting is done. He doesn't even have to know.

That way, you're abiding by the boss' wish - which is to attend the meeting. If he really has a problem with you actually getting a 30 minute break, he'll have to take that up with you, but you'll be in a much better position. After all, you're doing what he asked - attending the meeting. Is it critical that you must use up your lunch time to do it? He'll have a tough time justifying that.

  • but he/she may know, and then the problem remains. Most of the time, your time OOO is noticed. – New Alexandria Dec 2 '18 at 17:19
  • The boss is getting his request met: attend the meeting. It would be quite awkward for a boss to approach an employee and say 'No, what I really meant was I don't want you to take a lunch at all'. That's a baldly unreasonable request. – DaveC426913 Dec 3 '18 at 18:40
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If you can, walk away from your place of work for your lunch breaks, and if you still get asked questions if you are in a canteen or lunch area within the building, leave the building.
For the lunch meetings, go to them and then leave the building for your usual 30 minutes, or if you think you can get relaxed enough, the place where the others also sit for their lunch.

As the lunch is your own time, you can take that time in the place you want. If work is getting in the way (planned) you should be allowed to take it at an other time.

If, as it seems from your post, you eat lunch at a different time from most others, you may need to adjust your schedule if something is planned for your normal time.

  • Bingo! That's what I used to do. Problem solved. – Mike Waters Dec 2 '18 at 20:38
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Generally these presentations are held to monitor production status and to evaluate key performance indicator at the end of each month. All stack holders are gathered and discuss on going issues which are required to be addressed to ensure sustainable production targets. Normally these presentation are held at the time when all stack holders can be present. It could be the one reason that your boss held it in lunch time. By missing such presentation you can not be awarded on decisions made during the meeting.

In my opinion you should take it positive activity and attend it regularly by keeping following points in your mind

  1. As these meetings are attending by all stack holders and if you skip it will not good sign in front of your boss .

  2. Half an hour in the month can easily be manageable. As the demand is so minimal it can be fulfilled for job appreciation.

  3. A good subordinate should always willing to fulfill job related requirements of boss as for as possible. These actions ultimately develop good working relationship with boss which are beneficial for your job security and to avail future career appourtunities

1

None of the given answers address the simple human reality — which should be said directly without drama, undertone, or passive aggression:

The person says that their lunch time is consistently being interrupted by other employee's questions. This employee feels they need a breather; some time that is really 'alone', they are not getting it, and this monthly meeting it cutting into those few true alone times.

That's a plain, human, reality. It can be said, plainly. Maybe even plain enough to seek and be worthy of the empathy needed to grok it.

If the boss doesn't grok that, then ask the same plain question to HR, regarding their advice for how to get that alone time. e.g. do they mind if you eat out-of-office for some days? They'll say yes and think little more of it, but that fair plain question will come back to mind if this person's boss is ever seeking HR advice about their perception of people not attending their lunch meetings...

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The problem here as I see it is:

1) There is no spare time in your schedule. You are "incredibly busy", and you're already behind on your work (proven by the fact that 30 minutes would put you "even further behind"). But I assume you're not "catastrophically doomed to be massively late on everything you do", or you'd have mentioned it.

2) This extra presentation thing has come up, which (because your team is already stretched) your boss can't easily make time for. It will be at least once a month, quite possibly more.

If this "stretched" assumption is wrong, then the correct way forward is extremely simple: ask your boss to let you take your lunch break immediately after the presentation. If you're not already over-stretched, that's an easy "yes". If it's not an easy "yes", your boss has a resource problem, albeit a fairly mild one as these things go.

So, from the POV of getting all the work done in the available normal hours, your boss is screwed. Maybe it's their fault, maybe it's somebody else's fault. Doesn't really matter unless you have a realistic chance of getting up the chain and challenging whether this presentation and/or some other part of your work really needs doing at all.

If you can get rid of something from your already slightly over-committed schedule, obviously that's a good option. For example, if everyone is flat out all the time, that might be a good argument for making something more efficient, dropping the least valuable thing you do, or hiring another person. Frankly, if your boss could do this they probably already would have, but if you have the right kind of relationship then you can use this a spur to propose to your boss they give it another go. Let's assume it's not that easy.

Also bear in mind that people tend to over-estimate the risk of just asking. "So, boss, what's going to happen on the days of this lunch meeting? Did you intend me to take a break at a different time? I'm really not sure I can work through". It's plausible your boss literally hasn't even thought about this, and even though things are stretched doesn't really mind what you do at the scale of an occasional 30 minutes. Personally I'm used to offices where people can take their lunch at varying times as convenient, rather than the same fixed slot every day, and so a lunch meeting is in the eye of the beholder. You have a fixed lunch time, but it's possible your boss just assumed you'll figure it out.

If that fails, the question you ask yourself is, "am I going to help my employer out by giving them something for nothing?". If you are, then your course is pretty clear. Go to the meeting. Do all your normal work. Explain to your boss that you really feel you need a proper break (this is usually easy if your break has legal protection, but could be be hard if it doesn't because they might think listening to a presentation is like a break). Figure out with them when during the day you can take that break. Leave late on the days when this happens.

If you're not going to help your employer out for nothing, then they might be willing to accept that. You know your employer, so try to estimate the likelihood that they will pay you overtime and/or have you do a bit less "normal" work to make up for the lost time. If the likelihood is high, ask your boss for that. If the likelihood is low enough not to even try, or you ask and don't get, then you and your employer have incompatible goals and must negotiate to get anywhere.

If you're not willing to help your employer out, and they are not willing to accept that, then you are locked in a battle of tactics and will. There are a whole bunch of different options for different kinds of negotiation (or unilateral action in lieu of negotiation): stand on your legal rights (if you have any). Look for a better job. Go into a hard-ball negotiation with your boss, where you say "look, if you want me to go to that lunch meeting here's what has to happen". Try something a little sneaky, such as going to the meeting and then immediately afterwards say "OK, I'm just heading out for lunch, see you in 30", implicitly daring them to disagree, and let your normal work fall where it may. Be aware that locking yourself in a battle of tactics and will with your employer usually has big downside risk.

As in any negotiation, you need to know (a) what you want and the value to you; (b) so far as you can, what your opponent wants and the cost to you if they get it; (c) what your BATNA is (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement -- look it up); (d) if possible, what your opponent's BATNA is; (e) the potential cost of even entering a negotiation at all, given that your boss might retaliate against your perceived trouble-making.

The fact is that unless you're on hourly wages with paid overtime, or otherwise have very strictly defined work hours, you are constantly in something of a negotiation with your employer over how much work (if any) you'll do beyond standard hours. Different people are in different places: some never have to work unpaid overtime at all. Some are happily working 50% or more over their nominal hours, every week, forever or until they burn out. Where are you willing to sit on that scale?

The fact you're asking this question suggests that currently you're pretty much working standard. But your company has some management or planning difficulty that means they're consistently over-committing and running behind. Be aware that this problem will not be solved by you working a little bit of extra time. There is no manager on the planet that can successfully and smoothly plan all work to get done on time if their team work 40.5 hour weeks, but cannot get it done in 40. It's always a trade-off within a continuum of risk. Furthermore, everyone would always prefer their employees to be busy than not. The problem is not the 30 minutes for the presentation, the problem is the consistent over-commit which leaves no flexibility for people to invent a 30-minute presentation. You doing them a favour by producing an extra 30 minutes out of nowhere is a temporary workaround, and it is well within what a lot of people expect in their job, but you have to judge whether or not that's all that's needed. You also have to judge whether or not this is the thin end of a nasty wedge.

There is no single action to solve all those issues, especially given that we don't even know your location or yout employment status. But all the above is just detail on top of the basic things you have to consider: "how bad really is this?", and "will my boss even do anything about it if I raise it?". Your best guesses to those questions are better than ours.

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