It's always a tough call. Should you treat yourself to a real lunch break by getting out of the office, taking a true 30 to 60 minutes, and refusing to check your inbox? Or, should you quickly heat up leftovers from last night and shove it down as you continue to ferociously respond to emails?

Although you are legally allowed a break during your workday, it's stressful to actually take that time to relax. With a heavy workload, it can seem like precious time wasted.

This is where lunch-and-learns come into play.

What is a Lunch-and-Learn?

A lunch-and-learn program is a great opportunity for employers to encourage employees to take time away from their desks during lunch breaks while simultaneously utilizing that time to complete trainings, seminars, and other education.

I once attended a lunch-and-learn at HubSpot where we had the chance to eat sandwiches and have a Q&A with co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah. As an intern, this was an incredible opportunity to connect with an executive -- an opportunity I normally wouldn't have been able to have and that I was able to have during an hour that I'd normally be eating at my desk.

Below, we've curated a list of tips and tricks for creating the best possible lunch-and-learn program for your team.

Lunch and Learn Ideas and Topics

1. Cross-training

One of the most valuable uses of a lunch-and-learn program is cross-training -- when an employee teaches their daily responsibilities to coworkers of various departments. That employee can also teach new job-specific skills. Overall, this helps form more cohesion within your workplace by allowing all employees to understand the inner workings of each individual team.

In addition, cross-training can include recaps of recent or upcoming projects, as well as accomplishments for that specific individual or team. When working at a company -- especially a large one -- it's easy to get wrapped up in your own team and lose sight of what everyone else is up to. By including occasional cross-training lunch-and-learns, you can ensure that we're all rooting on each other's successes and mindful of every single person who helps make the company run at its best.

2. Product training

Lunch-and-learns can also be a great opportunity for educating employees on new products. Companies in most industries are constantly researching, testing, and innovating new ideas for products and services. Unless you're on one of the teams dedicated to building these products, you may find that you have no idea what your company is actually selling.

By educating the whole company on its products, you can feel confident that any employee could explain them to a customer or prospect. And, rather than forcing employees to look at the products on their own time or delve into an online training course -- which would likely not survive the average attention span -- you can have them learn in an open, friendly environment on their lunch breaks.

3. Employee-led workshops

Sometimes, an employee has a particular skill that they'd love to share with their coworkers. Similar to TEDx Talks, these employee-led talks can be rooted in whatever they are passionate about: from leadership to best practices to positivity in the workplace.

Send out a form and allow employees to submit their own topics for consideration. Then, when the big day comes, they can take the stage. It's a lot more interesting to gain new information when it keeps coming from different sources, and your employees will love learning about new topics that aren't always directly related to your company and its products. In addition, it will help some of your employees refine their public speaking skills.

4. Recent or upcoming changes

When change is a-coming for your company, you may worry about how well it will stick in the minds of your staff. Rather than sending a lengthy, eye-glazing email that may be left unread, consider delivering this information in-person at a lunch-and-learn.

A presentation can visually indicate the changes, which will help employees remember them better. After all, according to Psychology Today, "the effective use of visuals can decrease learning time, improve comprehension, enhance retrieval, and increase retention." And, by relaying the changes in-person, you will give people the chance to immediately ask follow-up questions. You want to dismiss any confusion immediately, which would be possible in a lunch-and-learn.

5. Diversity conversations

No matter how far your organization has come, there's always room for improvement. This sentiment could not be truer than it is for diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion is an ongoing conversation that can never truly be achieved by a company. Rather, it's something to always strive for, work towards, and be mindful of, an idea that is prevalent in HubSpot's own Culture Code. It, too, is a work in progress, but that progress began through ideas shared between employees.

Occasionally hosting lunch-and-learns about diversity and inclusion can show your employees that you genuinely care about making your workplace a safe space. Rather than lecturing the room, allow the program to turn into an open discussion. Employees can enjoy their lunch and feel comfortable expressing their feelings on the matter in a way they might not have in a more formal setting.

6. Practicing proper health and wellness

It's difficult to balance a sedentary office job and a life of health and wellness. Unless you have standing desks, your employees might fall into a rut of lethargy in the workplace. Thus, it could be a good idea to cover health and wellness at your next lunch-and-learn.

Come up with options for employees who want to lead a healthier day at the office -- both physically and mentally. You can educate on short five-minute meditations that can be done right at the desk, light exercises at work or on breaks, and on tips for avoiding buying an unhealthy lunch every day. Encourage your employees to split up their day with a workout or yoga session or work from home when they need a mental break from the office. You want your team to always feel comfortable taking the steps they need in order to maximize their physical and emotional health and be the best worker they can be.

4 Ways to Improve Your Lunch-and-Learn

1. Cover lighter topics.

Since your hosting this program as a lunchtime alternative, you never want to cover material that is harsh or serious. This is not the time for intensive trainings, triggering material, or firm talk-downs. Those should be scheduled privately and labeled as such.

Rather, this is a time to cover lighter topics that may not typically take priority in a busy employee's day. Lunch breaks are the perfect time for employees to learn new skills, get educated on company products and changes, and partake in open conversations. You want them to leave the lunch-and-learn feeling refreshed and excited to complete the second half of their day.

2. Invite employees to submit their own ideas for programs.

The best way to get your employees interested in attending lunch-and-learn programs is by having them select the topics they'd like to cover. After all, if the programs are on a voluntary basis, who is going to show up to events that seem boring to them?

Consider sending out a form to your entire team asking them to submit topics they'd like to cover. That way, you can come up with a range of potential programs. There are some that will need to cover important company updates, but others can run free based on interest. And, hopefully, employees will share their suggested events with friends, thus achieving an even larger audience.

3. Offer food and beverages.

As much as someone might enjoy the content of your lunch-and-learn, that's typically not what's going to entice them into coming. Unfortunately, there's little to which an employee will say no as long as it involves free food and beverages.

Of course, it's not always financially possible to provide a full lunch meal for an entire team of employees. However, even purchasing cheap snacks can be an incentive and can encourage more people to come. And, once they're there, they'll be hooked onto the conversation and will, hopefully, return in the future.

10. Schedule appropriately.

You can't expect that anyone will show up to your lunch-and-learn if you plan it a day in advance. Not only will you feel under-prepared, but employees might have already made lunch plans for that day. It's common courtesy to give at least a week's notice. That way, people can schedule the program into their day's schedule.

In addition, as excited as you might be about planning a new lunch-and-learn program for each day of the week, you'll probably be overdoing it. Lunch-and-learns should be structured as a special event that occurs once in a while. Plan on holding one a week, and rotate the topics each time. If there's enough interest, you can switch to two a week. However, understand that lunch should also be a time to relax. Don't be offended if people don't always show up to your programs, as it's equally important for them to sometimes spend quality time with friends or finish up extra tasks at their desk.

Overall, the point of a lunch-and-learn is, literally, to have lunch as a team and learn something new. So, don't get too bogged down in the details of planning the program. Simply, offer your employees the tools and space they need to do something both fun and productive during their lunch break.

To learn more, read about work from home customer service jobs next.

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Originally published Oct 22, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated October 22 2018

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Customer Support & Service Careers