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I just started a new job as an intern. I am actually on my second week, and I think I have been getting along pretty well with my team. Everyone in my team likes to take long lunches; hour to a hour and a half, and they are purely social in nature. For the first week I went along with them, but I personally prefer to take a short lunch, and leave work sooner. For the past two days I didn't go out with my team to eat, and I feel fine about it other than the fact that this behavior might distance me from my team.

I get paid based on the number of hours I work, but it is based on honor system, so no one is keeping track of it but me.

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    It is clear from the question that you understand the drawbacks. Being social at work is a big part of success. If you are concerned about making a good impression with your colleagues, spending time with them is important. If you don't see yourself sticking with this company when the internship ends, it won't hurt you to take a solitary and short lunch.
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 20:17
  • Are you required to work a specific number of hours each day (or week)? (It sounds like you are, but please confirm.) And are the lunches purely social, or do people discuss work over lunch? You can edit your question to add more information; that's better than answering in a comment. Thanks. Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 1:13
  • How about going to lunch with them, but not every day?
    – Brandin
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 9:48
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    I think a reasonable alternative is joining the team for lunch but spending less time there, just tell them honestly that you are trying to get the work done and need to get home sooner, so are happy to spend 30 min at lunch but then have to get back. They might complain and joke about it for a week or so but will eventually let it go. The important thing is to stay firm and consistent with your behavir: 30 min means 30 min, not 45. Draw the line and stick to it. This way you still get the benefit of lunch conversation, and will eventually 'train' your colleagues to accept your schedule.
    – A.S
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 13:43

4 Answers 4

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A big point on this one is - what are you paid to do? Presumably you are not paid to be there from hour X to hour Y, since you can take a shorter lunch and leave early.

One of the harder points to balance is the juxtaposition of hourly interns and salaried full time employees. In a salaried world, there's an expectation that you'll be able to meet a certain number of objectives that have very little to do with how many hours you work. That will include:

  • Being able to do a certain collection of tasks by a certain deadline.
  • Being able to support your team members with constructive ideas and support work (peer reviews, brainstorming meetings, and other suggestions or verification of quality) to the level of depth and clear, productive communication that is expected of the given level.
  • Being able to receive and react to information - both direct and indirect - about what your team is doing, what the technical environment around you is doing, and what is needed from you in response.

The reason that many positions are salaried is that trying to figure out how many hours per week that takes both pointlessly complex and also highly variable from individual to individual. While you are training as an intern, if you are preparing for a role that is typically salaried - you should be thinking - am I learning how to do this role well enough that I'll be able to get the compensation and role I want as a result of this internship... which on some level means being ready and able to do the things that salaried employees do, by the time you finish your internship.

So - to me - the big question is - does skipping lunch get you to that goal?

My experience has been that in any team, there is often someone who skips lunch to get home early - even in a system where everyone is on salary. The difference between success and failure is - how does that person compensate for the value that they don't get from lunch? The value is usually a combination of personal connection and building of trust, and also being aware of the informal communication that occurs (sometimes during lunch) to the extent that it can be productively used in day to day work.

Alternatives include:

  • developing connections and friendships outside of lunch
  • making sure you're in the know of informal communication, even when you're not at lunch
  • making sure that in going home early, you are still acceptably accessible to your team and your supervisor

Some of these you can tackle directly - ask your supervisor about core hours, for example, and adhere to them. Also be willing to take a late meeting - even if you worked through lunch.

Some of them are more subtle - making sure you develop friends and make connections without being at lunch.

And sometimes you can compromise - say you'll go to lunch on one day a week you're willing to work late, and skip it other days.

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Question 1: Is it okay to take longer lunches?

Question 2: Will I lose anything from not sharing lunch with my team?

For question 1, I would argue that you will not receive any punishment for taking a longer lunch. You are going along with your team, possibly even sharing a ride with them, and following the lead of people more senior to you. I cannot see a situation in which the new person would be faulted for sharing what is obviously a tradition among team members.

For question 2, you will certainly be left out from some of the bonding and casual conversation that takes place when sharing a meal. Your team members could see you as distancing yourself from them, and given that you're already the new person coming in to an existing social group, you will be doing nothing to shorten the disconnect between you and them. If you're also leaving earlier than them because you power through lunch, it may be seen as being petty, not a team player, or just odd. Anecdotally, I have experienced people who forgo lunch altogether and leave an hour early, only to be reprimanded when we have a 4pm meeting and they are not around for it.

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  • I think you missed the point of question 1: Tannaa, being paid by the hour, would like to take a shorter lunch break because this would let them leave work earlier.
    – TonyK
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 19:27
  • @TonyK That adds some complexity as I mention in question 2. If they are paid hourly then it could be argued that they are putting in 8 hours or whatever is expected, but there could be an unwritten understanding of availability from 9-5 with an hour for lunch, making 8 hours and then any overtime is paid based on an hourly wage. Maybe not, we don't know enough about the situation, but there is enough to say that just because the numbers line up doesn't mean that mentalities and expectations also align. Be wary.
    – Brian R
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 19:15
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Workplace camaraderie for a new hire is most important than anything else. Unless there is a reason for you to leave work early one or two days, it is okay to stay back and take a short break and leave early, but while you are in the infancy state of you employment, what you will learn from others, who are more senior to you, especially in a relaxed, informal environment, will one day make or break you. Some people love to tell stories. And if there is one place better to tell them than during your long lunch break, it is the happy hour at the local pub. So, I will not only encourage you to keep going to these long lunches, but also suggest not turning down any socializing call coming from your teammates. Such as getting together at the local pub for happy hour, being invited to a golf outing (even if you don't play golf, go to the driving range one day and learn how to tee off, if there is such a possibility), or a barbecue, or a poker night with the guys. I think you've got where I am going.

This does not need to go forever unless you really like these guys. After a few months maybe a year, you will notice the repeating pattern in their stories told or gatherings arranged. Some might be things you like. By all means join the team on those but at that point you will not feel obligated to participate anything and everything. Absolving yourself totally will not be looked cool but, since you will no longer be the new kid on the block, if you miss one conversation, you can catch up on it at the coffee room the next day from someone who was there, because they now trust you.

Also, when you are on these long lunch breaks, or whatever else socializing venues, do not just listen to the others. Try to participate the conversation at a personal level when it is suitable. Tell them stories, especially mildly embarrassing ones (nothing sordid, nobody needs to know your escapades while you were in Las Vegas last year) to make them feel at ease with you. I wish I had that kind of employees at my new workplaces. With the exception of one of my positions, which is the longest one ever lasted in my career, I never had that close knit group dynamic at any workplace of mine.

Enjoy your new job and workplace.

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  • And never take a short lunch and leave early unless you know your boss is ok with that. You don;t want to get fired because the boss can't find you at 4:30 because you left at 4 and he didn't know you were doing that.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 14:36
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The only thing I would say to keep in mind when taking long lunches is how many hours you work. As an intern, you are most likely an hourly employee. Now, your question implies that you stay later to make up for the long lunches in order to make an 8-hour workday. If your lunches eat into how many hours work, however, it could look bad to a higher up somewhere down the line. That could be bad if you wanted to try and get a full-time position with the company but your current team didn't have an opening.

Consider the accepted answer to this admittedly closed question about the potential bad reputation of people who only work 40 hours a week: How can you avoid being undervalued as a 9-to-5 developer while 90% of colleagues put in paid and unpaid overtime?

Otherwise, I agree with the other answers that already exist about the benefits of spending time with your team.

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