There’s a reason why networking is considered a factor for success: having good connections facilitates career advancement. And employers also benefit when their employees get talking to each other. In day-to-day life, lunch breaks are a great time to build contacts. More and more companies are aware of this fact and support their staff in expanding their personal networks, for example via Mystery Lunch. But they are also facing pushback: a major point of criticism is that networking during lunch breaks deprives employees of much-needed rest time. What are the merits of this argument?
A large network can be the key to new professional opportunities; it is, for example, frequently the way employees hear about vacancies or exciting projects. Companies benefit when silo mentalities among their workforce are reduced and departments collaborate more efficiently. That’s why more and more businesses are recognising the added value offered by platforms like Mystery Lunch, which help employees network over their midday meal.
Rest and recreation during lunch breaks
On the other hand, workers should be able to rest during their lunch break. Recharging and relaxing are certainly very important. Numerous studies emphasise the connection between overwork and the risk of burn-out faced by many employees. This is one of the reasons that lunch breaks are enshrined in law: in Germany, employees may not work for more than six hours at a stretch – then they must take a break of at least 30 minutes.
A changing world of work with greater flexibility
In light of this need for breaks, opportunities for employees to network over lunch are sometimes questioned since they might put pressure on employees to stay “switched on” during their lunch break. The contention is that they aren’t left with enough time to rest; instead, their breaks become additional working hours. But is this actually true?
For one thing, many employees’ everyday working lives are fundamentally changing as today’s world of work becomes increasingly flexible. This applies to their working location, which for growing numbers of employees involves travel. Work-from-home arrangements are on the rise, and communication is often conducted electronically. This means traditional lunch breaks aren’t really the norm for many employees anyway; instead they flexibly determine their own break times when on the road or working from home.
In addition, what makes lunch breaks important to the majority of employees is not merely the relaxation and the food: social interaction with colleagues has always been a significant factor. Blind lunch date options are therefore simply an additional way to facilitate this inclination. Many employees enjoy meeting new people.
The topics of discussion at a Mystery Lunch are up to the participants. They can decide for themselves whether they want to talk about personal or professional matters – just as colleagues going to lunch together without a blind date would.
Guidelines for networking opportunities over lunch
This means that networking and relaxation don’t contradict, but rather complement each other. In order to take both sides of the argument as well as possible into account it is essential that companies consider some basic points regarding Mystery Lunch offerings.
- Voluntary participation: Registering on online platforms must always be the employee’s choice; staff members must never be obligated to take part. There should also be no social pressure to sign up; no one should feel forced to participate for reasons of prestige – for example because their colleagues are doing it. To ensure that these principles are met, it is imperative that companies have no access to the data. This means that employers receive no information on who takes part in a Mystery Lunch and who has no interest in doing so.
- Data privacy: Strict data privacy regulations are indispensable. They provide a basis for people to register anonymously. Platform providers offering blind lunch dates should store their data on servers in Germany that meet highest security standards. GDPR regulations alone make it illegal to pass on personalised participant data – even to employers. Only anonymised overviews are permitted.
- Personal responsibility: Networking will only offer individual employees added value if they are sufficiently open-minded. Companies should therefore create offerings aimed at staff members who enjoy meeting and building connections with colleagues. The intention should be to increase personal responsibility through informal opportunities.
- Corporate culture: New connections across department lines, greater transparency, more openness – in the medium term these factors will change communication throughout the company. Colleagues will listen more carefully to each other, hierarchies will lose significance and interactions become more human. This will create a change in corporate culture that benefits everyone.
Networking is becoming increasingly important for employees – and lunch breaks are the perfect time for it. But rest and relaxation also matter. Particularly in today’s flexible world of work the two can easily be combined. Companies that offer options like Mystery Lunch should observe a few guidelines; then all sides will benefit. The most important point is that participation must be voluntary: only those who really want to take part should do so. Then, what could be more relaxing than a good conversation with a friendly colleague?