Corporate culture and a heavy workload have led most British workers to abandon their lunch hour. But it’s time to reinstate it, argues Sarah Patten.
The lunch break: a time to refuel, relax and reenergise yourself for the afternoon ahead. At least, that’s the idea. In practice, it seems that the all-important 60 minutes away from your desk is now a thing of the past.
Recent research by MasterCard and Ipsos MORI has revealed that a staggering 82 per cent of British workers don’t take a full lunch hour. It found that the average length of a lunch break is just 28 minutes, with 70 per cent of office workers not leaving the building at all.
Evidence shows that lunch breaks can lead to better health, employee engagement, and productivity. Why, then, do so few of us manage to tear ourselves away from the desk?
According to a study carried out by Bupa, the main reason is workload: employees feel that they have too much on to justify pausing for even a few minutes. Workplace expectations also play a part, with staff witnessing their managers working through lunch, and feeling pressure to do likewise.
Yet, in the same survey, more than half of employees acknowledged that skipping lunch put them in a bad mood. 40 per cent believed that the lack of a proper break made them unproductive during the afternoon, and almost a third admitted to feeling physically ill after skipping lunch at work.
Of course, the feelings of physical sickness could be due to more than just overwork. In 2008, the BBC reported on tests carried out by consumer group Which? at its London offices. On swabbing 33 keyboards, a microbiologist found that four posed a potential health hazard, and one contained five times more germs than an office toilet seat. Indeed, it was so dirty that he ordered it to be removed, quarantined and cleaned.
Still enjoying that sandwich at your desk?
Voicing her concerns about the issue, businesswoman and television personality Margaret Mountford says, “Throughout my career I’ve seen employees hunched over their desks wolfing down a sandwich. It makes workers less productive, hampers creativity and numerous studies have shown it’s bad for health, so why do we still do it?”
If the consequences of a missed lunch break are negative for employees, then they could be even worse for employers. According to Bupa, the consequent drop in worker productivity could be costing British companies up to £50 million a day.
As Ms Mountford points out, this surely means it’s high time to stamp out unhealthy working cultures. “Bosses should lead the way by encouraging a culture of lunch breaks – it will boost productivity, creativity and morale as workers feel better and take on the afternoon revitalised,” she says.
Leading by example, then, seems to be the answer. If managers take a full lunch break, and encourage their staff to do likewise, this will change office cultures. And the results will benefit employees and employers alike.
© 2016 Just Recruitment Group Ltd.
Posted on Thursday Dec 8