LAST June, a company called The Energy Project launched a weekly gathering in public parks around America called Take Back Your Lunch. The idea was to get people out of the office for an hour or so every Wednesday through summer, to refuel over food and non-work chit chat amid greenery and fresh air, away from the water cooler. The kickoff in Manhattan's Madison Square Park proved so popular that the idea spread to more than 50 cities across the country, and even a few places overseas.
Tony Schwartz, the man behind Take Back Your Lunch, consults on boosting workforce productivity with Fortune 500 companies. He was spurred, he said, after poll findings showed that 60 per cent of 1,200 office folks took less than 20 minutes a day for lunch, with one-quarter saying they never left their desks at all. It may be par for the course in today's 24/7 work culture, but Mr Schwartz - who wrote a Harvard Business Review article titled The Productivity Paradox: How Sony Pictures Gets More Out of People by Demanding Less - says that the way most people work 'isn't working'. He's all about managing energy, not time, and a break now and then to refresh and recharge, he declares, can do wonders for morale and productivity.
In any case, for all these insights into productivity - and despite some remisiers' early protests about being denied their 'basic human right to a decent meal' - the Singapore Exchange (SGX) will start non-stop trading from 9 to 5 from March 1, doing away with the 90-minute lunch break. For a thriving financial hub constantly tussling for pole position with the region's best, all the reasons for non-stop trading are apparent enough. The greater overlap of trading hours with other Asian bourses will mean more opportunities for investors, who trade globally, to punt, hedge and arbitrage their investments, and make Singapore one of the most 'open' in Asia. And while it remains to be seen just how much of a boost the new trading hours will add to trading volume, the fact is: non-stop trading has been the norm elsewhere, from Australia and India to London and New York. And while Hong Kong and Tokyo are merely shortening, not scrapping entirely, their midday breaks, the HK bourse will soon open 30 minutes earlier.
The die is cast. Lunch breaks during the trading day will increasingly be, as one market player put it, a relic of the past. The new trading regime could spell, at least initially, higher costs for broking firms as they come up with measures to support remisiers' new work hours - including establishing central dealing desks, perhaps, to execute client orders when the broker is away from the trading computer, or other means to facilitate off-desk trading on the move. And, indeed, for many iPhone and iPad-toting brokers today, it may well be business as usual come March, except for some who might feel compelled to stay at their desks and skip lunch; they would need The Energy Project's pep talks about refuelling and recharging through the workday.
This article was first published in The Business Times.