A lunch and learn may summon thoughts of busy-minded coworkers stuffed in a conference room with pizza and soda, all seated around a PowerPoint presentation. Sure, you've likely attended at least one of these — or organized one — yourself over the course of your career. But a successful lunch and learn is more than just a meeting over lunchtime.
Here's what you should know about lunch and learn programs — what they are, their benefits and pitfalls, how to host a successful lunch and learn and some topics to get you started.
What Is a Lunch and Learn?
A lunch and learn program is usually about a 30- to 45-minutes training or presentation session that an organization or team facilitates for employees, volunteers or others during a lunch hour. This session might be held in the cafeteria, in an auditorium, in a conference room, in an office lounge or even at a nearby restaurant with ample seating. Regardless of where it's held, the session will most definitely provide lunch and drinks for employees and those in attendance — that's the incentive that sets this lunch-and-learn concept apart from other training sessions and presentations.
While sometimes it's not feasible for a company or team to provide lunch for the entire group of attendees, they can encourage attendees to bring their own lunches and enjoy them during the training session or presentation.
Essentially, a lunch and learn program should include exactly what it says: lunching and learning (either personal or job-related skills) started by anyone in leadership, a peer mentor or someone trying to build a team at a company or engage employees. It's typically a less formal and less structured program than traditional training events, and the topics are typically interesting enough to make the time investment worthwhile and easily digested in short periods of time.
Topics for Your Lunch and Learn
The topics of your lunch and learn program should appeal to the designated audience attending. If you work for a specific department within a company, or it's a company-wide lunch and learn, you'll want to take into consideration the mission and skills necessary for that department or company. You'll also want to take into consideration the general interests of the people in your audience. For example, younger employees might not be interested in learning about retirement plans just yet. Likewise, employees who don't plan on having families might not be interested in learning about parental leave or IVF program benefits.
That said, here are five topics that could likely benefit all employees.
- Financial Literacy
Everyone, regardless of their age or status or background, can benefit from understanding their finances. Financial literacy might be a presentation on key financial terms and phrases. It'd be about decoding financial jargon that intimidates and even confuses a lot of us.
- Stay Fit While You Sit
Fitness is important to everyone, especially those of us sitting at a desk all day. A presentation on how to stay fit while you sit could be beneficial — and even fun — for all employees. This might include some meal prepping tips, some chair yoga exercises or some sitting stretches.
- Personal Development
Personal development spans the gamut. This presentation or training session might be on a number of skills. Think: communicating, negotiating, listening, setting/achieving goals, keeping a positive attitude and more. It can even mean taking the time to learn a fun new skill like wood carving, drawing, painting, weaving or something else entirely.
- Diversity Training
Tons of companies offer diversity training programs. As companies look to retain and attract diverse workforces, bringing everyone together to discuss diversity is important. It's also an important time for the organizers to learn what they could be doing better or more of, as well. Lunchtime is also a great time to invite guest speakers or showcase cross-cultural education
- Budgeting 101
Like financial literacy, everyone, regardless of age, status or background, can benefit from knowing how to budget. This might showcase different budgeting tools, teach budgeting skills, help attendees set budgeting goals and more. It may also be specifically tied to budgeting for a particular reason — retirement, vacation, tuition, rent, shopping, etc.
The important thing to remember is that a lunch and learn program is not the time to perform training that's required either by law or by the company — those should be taken more seriously and should be mandatory for all employees; lunch-and-learn sessions are usually voluntary.
Benefits of a Lunch and Learn
There are tons of benefits from hosting a lunch and learn in today's stressful economy. To follow are some of the most obvious benefits.
- Boost employee morale
- Improve team communication
- Build teamwork skills
- Advances training initiatives
- Creates excitement and positivity
- Provides networking opportunities
- Brings employees together
- Reinforces company culture
- Increases critical awareness for issues
- Introduces new organizational initiatives
- Uses time wisely
- Creates an open channel for information flow and training
- Teaches employees new work skills
- Teaches employees new personal skills
Potential Risks and Pitfalls of a Lunch and Learn
Of course, with any training session or presentation, there are potential risks and pitfalls. Not every lunch and learn is going to be a success. Here are some of the ways a lunch and learn can fall short.
- Mandating presence, which can reduce interest and enjoyment
- Not offering a wide variety of subjects that interest participants
- Offering skills that don't apply to participants
- Scheduling too many events that take from employees' valuable lunch periods
- Alienating professionals by failing to offer facilities for remote employees
Steps to a Successful Lunch and Learn
While anyone can host a lunch and learn program, there are some keys to a successful lunch and learn that make it both informative and enjoyable for participants. Here are 10 steps to launching a successful lunch and learn.
Your lunch and learn program should utilize attendees' time wisely. You want to make sure that you're not constantly taking up their lunch periods — and, when you do, it's for good reason.
2. Proper Advertisement
A successful lunch and learn is properly advertised well in advance so that attendees can make the scheduling plans they need to make sure that they can attend. That might mean rescheduling lunches with other coworkers or clients, moving some things are their schedules, not packing their lunch that day (or packing their lunch that day), and more. Advertising will also build up the hype surrounding the session and allow attendees time to prepare for whatever it is that they'll be learning or doing.
3. Educated Presenters
A legitimate lunch and learn will be taught by someone who is an expert on the topic, or hosted by someone who has brought in expert speakers and other presenters. If it's a class on drawing, for example, the person presenting should be a good drawer. If it's a class on budgeting, you might want to bring in a financial planning expert to speak to guests.
4. Interested Attendees
Attendees should willingly want to come to your lunch and learn — it shouldn't be a mandatory event but, rather, one that brings in a lot of people from sheer interest alone.
5. Applicable Topics
One way to get employees interested in is by offering applicable topics like the aforementioned suggestions.
Timeliness can be an asset to any lunch and learn. If it's around time for people to file their taxes, for example, the session might be about how to file taxes or how to navigate the new tax laws.
7. Good Food
Of course, any lunch and learn program needs good food. If you're going to take an employee away from their own lunch period, when they could have hit their favorite local spot or brought their own meal, you might as well make sure the meal you serve them is comparable if not better.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,