Office Workers’ Lunch Time: Is it Working time or Free Time?
Office Workers’ Lunch Time: Is it Working time or Free Time?
  • 김하늘 기자, 임한비 기자
  • 승인 2023.06.21 11:08
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The so-called MZ generation has been having various conflicts of opinion with the previous generation as society gradually advances. MZ Generation (G) is a combination of Millenial G and Zoomer G, born between the 1980s and early 200s. It is a generation that uses the internet and smartphones well and clearly expresses likes and dislikes. Ironically, one of the characteristics of MZ generation workers who have passed through the narrowest employment gate in the history of Korea is the high rate of resignation. In the case of the MZ generation, which tends to value individual satisfaction over organizational prosperity, if they are dissatisfied with their jobs or organizational culture, they have a tendency to leave or change jobs faster than the older generation.

Recently, conflicts between the MZ generation and the older generation have caused a “lunch time debate” at work. Several online communities shared an article titled “Is it wrong to go home during lunch time at work?” The total lunch time at work is an hour and a half, and the employees eat at the cafeteria or go to the café freely. The writer said that it took only five minutes to get home from work, so he used to rest at home every lunch time. However, his boss did not like it, and he called the writer and pointed out, “How dare you go home during lunch time given by your job?” In response, the writer reportedly asked his boss, “Isn't lunch time a legally given free time?” Now, let’s listen to the views on this hot issue.

Pros: Lunch hour, their own free time

By Lim Han-bee

According to Article 54 of the Labor Standards Act, at least 30 minutes of rest for 4 hours or at least 1 hour of rest for 8 hours of work should be given. In addition, the same law stipulates that workers can freely use rest hours. In other words, lunch time is a legal “rest time” for office workers and is not included in the company's working hours. Therefore, people can spend their lunch time in various ways, such as eating lunch, taking a walk nearby, or filling up their lack of sleep.

Alex Bang, the author of Amazon's bestseller Rest, explains the results of studying the correlation between rest and productivity in one sentence: “To be the world's best in each field, you need 10,000 hours of practice, 12,500 hours of rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.” The book re-examines the value of rest that the 10,000-hour law of success has missed, arguing that quality rest is needed to improve work performance and enhance creativity.

Previously, the rationalization that “lunch and get-togethers are also an extension of work life” was prevalent, and personal activities during lunchtime were prohibited. But now, many companies refrain from imposing work during lunchtime and do not force employees to use their breaks for the company. Having a break time is not just the absence of work. From a personal point of view, it can be a time to prevent burnout, and from a company's point of view, it can be a time for immersion and to improve work efficiency. But still, the debate remains: “Is office workers’ lunch hour an absolutely free time or is it the extension of working hours?” What is your views on this?

In order to reduce the gap of difference between the views, communication is one of the most important factors. To listen to people’s views on this heated issue, I interviewed some people of the MZ generation. Most of them stood for the position of their own free time, arguing that they need not work during lunch hours because lunchtime is not recognized as working hours by their employers. Accordingly, they told that their lunchtime should be freely spent doing whatever they want to do since it is their own free time.

Cons: Lunch hour, the extension of working hours.

By Kim Ha-neul

Other interviewees responded that lunchtime is the extension of working time although wage is not given during lunchtime. According to them, lunchtime is just a short break which can be changed into a working time depending on the situation. If something emergent happens suddenly at work during the lunch hour and you need to deal with it with no delay, you should be summoned in no time. If not, it can cause a great damage to the company. Think about that you fell asleep during lunchtime at home and didn't get the emergent call. Therefore, you should be near the company during the lunch break although your lunch hour is a legally given free time to the employees and the employer has no legal authority to act against your staying at home during lunchtime. However, if something bad happens, corporations are punished in the form of dual liability through the Administrative Criminal Act, which was established in order to secure the effectiveness of punishment. This means that the employee' work negligence can not only result in punishment for them but also for the company that has a duty to manage and supervise them. So, the act of not working, claiming that lunchtime is free time from urgent work that occurs during the break, can be considered a strict abandonment of duty.

Having complete free time during lunchtime can be effective in increasing work efficiency. A company is a huge collection of people. It is a space where many people work and cooperate, so you should not create disruptions to work with the thought that the lunch break is an absolute free time given to you, which comes from the self-centered perspective. Work is like a responsibility given to an employee by the company. The same goes for lunchtime. Even if you enjoy your lunch break, you should always be ready to return to work. While the MZ generation definitely took the side of free time, the previous generation's position was divided. People who have been at work for a long time say that lunchtime is generally working time. However, the basis was different depending on the job. First, a teacher said that lunch time is also working time because teachers have to take care of students. A business owner took the position that lunch time is also working time once he came to company. A person who works at a construction site said that because they want to finish their work quickly and leave work early, they work continuously without a lunch break.

So far, we have discussed pros and cons on the heated issue regarding the lunch hour. What is your opinion about this issue? The perspectives of both sides sound reasonable. However, what matters most is that we should not give disadvantages or harm to our co-workers and the company due to our behavior. Even though we enjoy our lunchtime at home, we should be ready to return to work as quickly as possible in case of emergency at work and should not spend our remaining energy doing house chores and any other work unrelated to the company as much as to damage the main work.

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