How to Run Successful Lunch and Learn Events for Employees?

Dec 7

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A company-sponsored lunch and learn is a great way to invigorate your team and address important relevant topics. 

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about how to plan a successful lunch and learn event, including a step-by-step checklist, budget considerations, and great lunch and learn topics for employees. 

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

What is lunch and learn?

A lunch and learn is a fun and engaging way to host training or informational activities for employees.

Logistically, a lunch and learn session (sometimes called a brown bag lunch and learn) is an informal, voluntary (and creative) way to train employees. It’s also a casual way for employees and teams to share their ideas with one another. The meeting or training session takes place during lunch, and companies sometimes sponsor the meal as incentive for attendance. 

But a lunch and learn is about more than just learning new skills or information. They’re also shown to increase employee success in a number of areas. 

In a recent Thriver study, our survey participants pinpointed a few specific ways that companies could better support employees in being more successful on the job:

  • Create opportunities for employees to connect with each other, whether in person or remotely;
  • Help employees define the work-life boundary;
  • Increase personal and professional support from management;
  • Offer more opportunities for professional development; and
  • Increase mental health support.

An employee lunch and learn accomplishes all of those objectives, both through the event itself and the presentations within them. They can also improve employee engagement, communication, and professional development opportunities. 

Pros & Cons of hosting a lunch and learn event

Every workplace is unique; as with any new initiative, it’s important to take stock of the resources your company has available and weigh the pros and cons of implementation accordingly. 

If you’re thinking about starting a lunch and learn program at work, consider the following benefits and drawbacks: 

Pros

  • Provides a great opportunity for your coworkers to socialize and reconnect.
  • Allows departments and teams to interact and mingle, which can help break down silos and encourage collaboration.
  • Helps employees develop confidence by allowing them to share their ideas in a casual, encouraging space.
  • Buying your employees lunch is a great way to show them how much you appreciate their hard work.

Cons

  • Can be a burden on employees who rely on their lunch break to recharge.
  • May alienate remote workers if considerations aren’t made for a virtual lunch and learn option.
  • Some employees might be resent having to attend “one more thing” on top of an already-too-busy schedule.
  • Employees with dietary restrictions may be inadvertently excluded if managers neglect to accommodate their needs.

Fortunately, there are lots of lunch and learn ideas that address many of the potential downsides. We’ll go over some of them later on in this article.

First, let’s look at how to do a lunch and learn event, step by step.

Steps for planning a lunch and learn

Since the lunch and learn has two primary purposes – social and informational – there are quite a few moving pieces to consider. The following checklist will help you plan lunch and learns at work so that everyone feels appreciated and considered. 

  1. Decide the intent of your lunch and learn.

The first thing managers need to do is decide the ultimate goal(s) of the lunch and learn event. 

What do you want your employees to walk away with? Will they present to one another, or will you hire an outside facilitator who’s trained on ideas for employee growth and development? 

Will this be a one-off event, or a regularly-scheduled meeting? 

Before you start planning the details, be sure to take a step back and see the bigger picture. 

What to Consider for In-Person Employees: Will your attendees need any supplies for the event? What will they walk away with that’s tangible? Prepare any materials ahead of time that will help your employees meet the goals you have set out for the event. 

What to Consider for Remote Employees: Make sure that everyone has working access to the video platform you plan to use to broadcast the event. If you plan to host regularly-occurring events, also be sure to configure your invites as such. 

  1. Set the budget.

Lunch and learn events can run the gamut in terms of budget. 

A lot depends on who you hire to present (the free option, of course, is for your employees to present to one another), and whether or not you’re picking up the tab for employees’ and/or facilitators’ lunches. The food itself can also come in many price ranges. 

You’ll also want to consider whether this is an ongoing budget item, or a one-time event. 

The budget for lunch and learns runs from $0 per person (employees bring their own lunches and present to one another) to over $100 per person.

In-Person Considerations: In addition to the costs of lunch and the training itself, also calculate what supplemental materials in-person attendees might need. If you’re hosting a meditation-based training, for example, in-person attendees might need a mat or towel. Will you provide these? If so, factor it into your budget.

Remote Considerations: In some instances, you may need to upgrade your video conferencing platform to accommodate your remote employees, especially if this will be an ongoing event. You may also need to ship any materials for the event to your remote employees. These should be included in the event budget.

  1. Determine the topic. 

One of the best things about lunch and learns is that they can cover just about any topic under the sun. There are myriad fun training ideas for employees that can be well-delivered via a lunch and learn, including professional and personal development, as well as company culture topics. 

Use Thriver’s polling feature to ask your employees what kind of training would be most beneficial to them. You’re far more likely to get buy-in and high attendance if the topic ideas come from employees themselves.

In-Person Considerations: Be sure to include dates, duration, and expectations for each potential topic. 

Remote Considerations: Be clear in the poll about the specifics of each option. For example, a yoga workshop might require employees to have space to move around, or ask that they practice certain positions. Remote employees will need to know these specifications before they vote. 

  1. Find the right facilitator.

Once your employees have decided on their preferred topic, it’s time to find someone who can present on it. Later in this article, we’ll provide some training ideas for employees for a variety of preferences and topics. 

If you’re planning to have employees present to one another, set the schedule ahead of time so that everyone can prepare accordingly.

In-Person Considerations: Check in with the facilitator about what space and material requirements they have. You’ll want to make sure the space is completely set up before their arrival, so that all of the allocated time can be put towards the training. 

Remote Considerations: Inform the facilitator that you have some employees who will be attending the event remotely. Ask them if there are any special considerations you’ll need to make to ensure they can fully participate.

  1. Choose a venue (and make it remote friendly).

Lunch and learns are meant to be inspiring, so choose your venue accordingly. Book your meeting space well in advance to avoid any conflicts, and be sure the space is configured to accommodate your employees and the topic at hand. 

In-Person Considerations: Make sure the space is large enough to accommodate all of your in-person attendees. This number may fluctuate depending on topic, date, and many other factors, so pay careful attention to these specifics. Also take into account whether you’ll need to set up tables and chairs, or if you’ll need space to move around. 

Remote Considerations: It’s critical that managers ensure any lunch and learn venue is equipped to broadcast the event to a remote audience. At the very least, there should be reliable WiFi. You’ll also want to consider the acoustics of the room so that the audio transfers cleanly. 

  1. Spring for a good lunch.

While it’s true that many lunch and learns are brown-bag style, the most coveted (and highly attended!) ones provide company-sponsored lunches.

The Thriver marketplace has tons of ideas for lunch and learn food options, and makes it incredibly easy to book according to your preferences and budgetary needs. Browse some of the best lunch caterers in Toronto, New York, LA, San Francisco and more!

In-Person Considerations: Although it’s not up to you to become a short-order cook, you should account for any dietary restrictions or allergies. Make sure, for example, there’s a vegetarian and/or dairy-free option for those who need one. Also be sure to provide any paper goods or cutlery – you won’t want to waste presentation time looking for those things when it comes time to start. 

Remote Considerations: If you’re providing lunch for in-person employees, it will go a long way to do the same for your remote ones. Make sure you have a way of delivering the meal to anyone offsite. 

  1. Send invitations.

Once the details are finalized, it’s time to send your lunch and learn invitations. 

These can be simple and straightforward – no need to go overboard. Feel free to copy and paste the lunch and learn invitation email sample below.

Hi everyone!

Please join us for our {TOPIC} lunch and learn on {DATE} at {LOCATION}.
Lunch from {CATERER} will be provided.
Please bring {ANY REQUIRED MATERIALS}.
For remote employees, use this link to join us.
{LINK}
Look forward to seeing you there!

– {YOUR NAME}

In-Person Considerations: Make sure there are no conflicts with your venue. It’s also a good idea to ensure that there are no other major team meetings the day of your lunch and learn; you’ll want your employees to be energized and ready to engage. 

Remote Considerations: Be sure to include the video conferencing link in the email invitation. 

  1. Respect everyone’s time.

Some employees are hesitant to attend workplace lunch and learns regardless of topic because they don’t want to be dragged into a never-ending meeting. Be sure you end the event when it’s advertised to end. Do not let the training or questions run over the time allotted. 

In-Person Considerations: Announce at the beginning of the workshop that questions should be held until the end (unless the facilitator instructs otherwise). 

Remote Considerations: Same as in-person. 

  1. Circle back.

The icing on the cake of a great lunch and learn is an opportunity to debrief and discuss during and/or after the event. 

If you can, give your attendees time for questions and answers at the end of the presentation. You can also go one step further and set up an email or Slack discussion about the topic. Look for opportunities to weave corporate lunch and learn topics into your teams’ day-to-day operations. 

In-Person Considerations: You might consider hosting a happy hour or other social event on the same day of the lunch and learn, to encourage conversations to keep flowing. You can also reserve additional space in the office for folks who want to reconvene during other breaks to continue conversing.

Remote Considerations: Set up a Slack channel or room in Teams for remote employees who want to continue discussing the topic. 

Lunch and Learn Topics for Company Culture

Many of the best lunch and learn ideas for virtual and on-site employees are based on company culture. These can easily be delivered in-person or online, and are applicable to nearly all of your employees. 

A team of 4 employees holding hands and smiling

Diversity and inclusion

Businesses with a diverse workforce are 43% more likely to enjoy above-average profits. 

Consider hosting a diversity-based lunch and learn, where employees will learn to improve their collaboration, enhance interpersonal skills, and allow underrepresented groups to feel more valued in the workplace. 

Communication

In today’s hybrid workforce, it’s more important than ever that teams can easily and authentically connect and communicate with one another.  

Give your team the connection playbook on the importance and how-tos of effective communication at your next lunch and learn. 

Emotional intelligence

One of the trendiest ideas for employee growth these days is emotional intelligence, and for good reason – high levels of EI in the workplace have been shown to improve teamwork and self-awareness, decrease conflict, and enhance leadership. 

Consider hosting an emotional intelligence lunch and learn, where employees will learn how emotions influence human behavior.

Lunch and Learn Topics for Professional Development

Of course, the go-to option for lunch and learn topics has typically been professional development topics. There are always plenty of topics to cover, and double-dutying them with a sponsored lunch is a great way to make the training more fun. 

A person in a wheelchair having lunch in front of their laptop

Thriver’s marketplace offers tons of fun training topics for employees professional development. Check out some of our favorites below. 

Conflict management

In a post-pandemic world, there’s a new kind of conflict management to consider: remote.

You might consider hosting a hybrid conflict management workshop that focuses specifically on the unique needs of resolving conflict while working remotely. Both in-person and remote employees will learn valuable hands-on skills. 

Increasing productivity 

One of the main reasons to host a lunch and learn is to boost employee engagement. Why not double up on this effort by hosting a productivity workshop

Many productivity workshops are now designed with remote workers in mind, so this is a great training idea for remote employees. 

Avoiding burnout

It’s been widely reported that post-pandemic employees are facing burnout faster and more severely than ever. One of the key issues with burnout is that by the time it’s occurring, it’s very difficult to mitigate.

A “how to avoid burnout” workshop is a great idea for a lunch and learn. It will teach your employees how to recognize the signs of impending burnout, and what to do to avoid it. 

Lunch and Learn Topics for Personal Development

Although we’re labeling this section “personal” development, make no mistake – these topics come up again and again in the workplace, and absolutely have an effect on your employees’ performance and mindset.

In fact, one of our more recent studies showed that personal development topics are top of the list when it comes to employees’ struggles.

A person having boxed lunch in front of their computer

Check out Thriver’s marketplace for tons of lunch and learn ideas for health and wellness. There’s sure to be a topic for just about every need. 

Stress management

It’s safe to say just about every employee at your organization could benefit from a stress management workshop. Consider hosting a lunch and learn where they can learn tangible strategies for maintaining a stress-free work experience

Work-life balance

Creating a harmonious work-life balance is no easy task – especially for employees who both live at and work from home. 

A lunch and learn that explains how to strike that balance would be a perfect option for hybrid teams.  

Sleep

Without adequate sleep, employees struggle with concentrating, learning, and communicating. Productivity plummets when team members are not resting effectively during their off-times. 

A lunch and learn is a great opportunity to give your employees the facts behind sleep science

Conclusion

Although lunch and learn events can be an investment of both money and time, they’re a wonderful way to encourage a lifelong love of learning among your employees. There are many ways to plan events like these that don’t require a lot of extra resources.

If you have a topic you’re hoping to address, try hosting a lunch and learn sometime soon!

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