My UNPAID internship doesn’t really stimulate me all day long but I’ve been ‘discouraged’ from taking a lunch break. I have so much downtime — so I feel comfortable eating at my desk while browsing fun websites, but I’d like to be able to meet up with my friends at other companies and enjoy some freedom. This seems to be the trend in my industry — media — but it’s so frustrating. And my mom says it’s illegal! How can I go about gently asking for a real lunch break without mentioning the illegality of this internship while maintaining I can get all my work done? I don’t want to step on any toes and lose good contacts at my job.
Your approach of trying to figure out a solution while being grateful for the internship is exactly the right direction so let’s start there. No company is certainly trying to enforce slave labor but industries like media and entertainment can be large lifestyle sacrifices. Those arenas are a lot of work and the cultures are long hours and hard work for everyone regardless of your level on the ladder.
That said, it sounds like it’s time to request a few minutes with your manager to talk about how the internship is going- let’s call it a mini-review. Talk about what you’ve been working on, how you can add more value if possible to the group and what some goals may be moving forward until the end of the internship. This can also offer you the opportunity to show them your dedication with a “whatever it takes” attitude to the work which can afford you the avenue to broach taking a break outside of the office occasionally during the lunch hour.
These kinds of conversations can make you nervous, but committing to make this the best experience it can be will really help you in the long run and after this role is over.