July 29, 2014

Follow up: Why Lunch & Learn is not for everyone

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lonely lady loves lunch by emohoc

Last time out, my post on why I dislike the practice of Lunch & Learns drew quite a few visitors to the site, and a small handful of comments on reddit.

One comment, in particular, stuck out in my mind.  Reddit user: “CivilDiscussions” wrote:

You sound like quite the slacker. In the real world, we have lunch meetings all the time. Lunch isn’t guaranteed to be “your time”

Now THAT is a fascinating take – that wanting to have a break with which to recharge, or to avoid yet another mindless, unproductive meeting, is associated with slacking.  The only thing this makes me believe is that people with this mindset have not yet adopted the principles of productivity or efficiency.  Instead, they value activity over accomplishment and, therefore, believe attendance at lunchtime working sessions is useful, which is just plain silly.

After reading the comments on reddit, however, i recalled Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, and her Ted talk on The Power of Introverts.  The assumption that people are “slackers” simply for their preference to be alone for awhile, especially mid-day after 4-5 hours of listening to other people’s incessant yammering, chatter, shifting, shuffling and noise, is certainly ignorant.  For those like me who crave that 30 or 60 minutes of isolation to block out the world and spend a little time doing something that either interests us intently, and/or relaxes us significantly – being chastised for doing what helps us to work seems like something that would cause a loss productivity.

Given that such a significant portion of the population is, in fact, introverted – that only makes the practice of Lunch & Learns that much more difficult to understand.  Consider what we know:

  • Trying to divide a person’s attention is counter-productive.  Eating and working at the same time guarantees a loss of efficiency in both activities and, since time is limited, makes both less effective, too.
  • The majority of people out there don’t like their jobs.  Throwing more information and activity at them in the same amount of time & space is mind numbing.  This either breeds resentment, fatigue resulting in a loss of creativity, or both.
  • A very large percentage of people function poorly when they don’t have a chance to “switch off” and re-charge.  Once they can do that, however, they are remarkably productive and creative.

Lunch & learn sessions fill what seems like non-productive time with something that feels more useful.  What gets missed, however, is the longer-term affects of allowing people to relax, unwind or to even have some time to think about the issues of the day without interruption.  Eliminating this time in favor of the vain belief that if people are doing something that feels like work, they must be doing something productive, is simply ignorant and condescending.


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  • http://twitter.com/maigustalent Mike Hackett

    David, great to see you back writing again. As always a great topic! Could you post this update to AWE?

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      You got it, Mike. I’ll put it in the AWE forums on linked in and look for more comments!

  • Karen Martin

    Bravo David! You’re not offending this consultant. I refuse to participate in this practice with my clients. This is one case where the customer is NOT right.

    What’s even more offensive than lunch ‘n learns are working lunches with people who are either learning a new skill or are working on an intense project. People need down time to reflect, absorb, etc. Jamming more info at them results in poor learning and retention. People need to back off, slow down and have respect for the customer — that’s whoever is the intended recipient/participant.

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks, Karen. Rather than packing as much work as possible into the day by “allowing” (as if adults should need permission) people to eat while attending a seminar seems like a misguided focus. Large portions of the work day are filled with value-less activities, as we know. Better to eliminate some of those and replace them with valuable learning activities than to ignore those wastes and add on just another meeting over lunch.