A simple Google search will reveal varying opinions on lunch time best practices. You should go out to grow rapport with colleagues. You should stay in to have better cognitive control and error monitoring. You should go out to gain creativity. You should stay in because most rich people do.
I agree with many of the opinions put forth, but there are two other reasons I eat lunch at my desk most days. First, because it allows me unparalleled opportunities and second, because it allows me to work almost 5 fewer weeks a year. Allow me to explain.
First, what are these unparalleled opportunities of which I speak? It's simple really. I'm a software engineer. When crap hits the fan in our production environment, people go to my manager. When my manager isn't there, they go to the technical lead on the team. When the technical lead isn't there, they go to me. And do you know when the manager and technical lead are both gone? Lunch time. It's a non-stop ticket straight to the top. I've been doing this for thirteen months now and on numerous occasions I've found myself being looked to as the person to diagnose the problem, set direction, delegate tasks, and solve the problem simply because I was the only one around. I've experienced things I probably wouldn't get to experience for another two years if I kept to the same schedule as my co-workers.
If there's always someone more qualified around when you're at work, you'll never get the chance to make those big decisions. It's situations like that which allow for growth in skills and confidence and speak volumes to my manager when he comes back to discover I've already put out the fire.
Second, I work almost 5 weeks less than I would if I left for lunch every day. The math here is simple. I'm assuming if I left for lunch I'd be away from my desk for 1 hour. We have team lunch once a week (which I always attend) so that leaves the other 4 work days each week. Thus, I gain back 4 hours a week (4*1=4). I get 4 weeks of vacation a year, so this happens for 48 weeks. That comes out to 192 hours each year (4*48=192). Take that and divide by a 40 hour work week and I'm spending about 5 fewer weeks each year at work (or at least not at home). Forget about the cumulative impact and it's still very tangible to go from a 44 hour work week to a 40 hour work week just by eating lunch at my desk. I take that extra hour every day and go for a run with my Golden Retriever (40 minutes) and work on a blog post (20 minutes). I just traded an hour of sitting (like I don't get enough of that) for an hour of exercise and career growth. I call that a win.
Taking lunch is a subjective matter with smart people on both sides of the fence. For me, I've found the benefits of getting off work sooner and being put in high risk situations which allow me to shine are well worth any associated price.
Anyone else have thoughts on this? I'd love to hear why you do/don't go out for lunch.