• Just 30 per cent of UK workers take proper lunch breaks

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  • 31 May 2016
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Experts warn working through lunch is ‘another form of presenteeism’

Employers have been urged to encourage proper lunch breaks after research revealed that seven in 10 Brits often spend theirs working or online.

A survey of 1,700 workers by the National Charity Partnership found that 24 per cent work through their typical lunch break and a further 46 per cent spend it on the internet.

The charity – a coalition of Diabetes UK, the British Heart Foundation and supermarket giant Tesco – warned that spending unbroken days in offices could affect employees’ mental and physical health.

More than three in 10 workers polled said having too much work was a barrier to getting out for a lunchtime stroll. One in eight blamed stress levels, and a similar proportion cited workplace culture.

Other reasons given included a preference for the internet over the outdoors and ‘I can’t be bothered’.

However, nine in 10 people said getting outside made them feel happier or more positive.

Jenna Hall, programme director for the National Charity Partnership, said work-related stress led to almost 10 million lost working days in 2014-15. 

“Managers and staff have a joint responsibility to ensure regular breaks are taken during the working day,” she said.

“Employers should promote a workplace culture where staff feel able to take breaks, and we would encourage employees to use our free online goal-setting tool to help them get outside during their lunch break and protect their wellbeing.”

Jacqui Kemp, director at wellbeing consultancy Namasté Culture, said companies should create a culture where people are encouraged to take their lunch breaks and not feel guilty about it.

“Some organisations have a culture of busy-ness; a belief that if I am sat at my desk I am being productive. Yet research shows that if we take short breaks regularly we can be far more productive, while reducing stress and improving our physical health,” she said.

Employers would benefit from changing their workers’ lunchtime behaviour, said Charlotte Cross, director at the Better Health at Work Alliance.

“Poor lunch habits result in just another form of presenteeism at best,” she said. “It doesn’t gain any employer much. Conversely, encouraging healthy activity and nutritious eating is a proven quick win that boosts performance. With sitting as the new smoking, and around of third of UK adults on track to be obese within nine years, fixing lunch break habits shouldn’t be overlooked.” 

Women appeared more likely to spend their breaks indoors, with just 15 per cent having lunch outside, according to the survey, compared with 35 per cent of men. Employees over the age of 24 are more than twice as likely to work through lunch as 18 to 24-year-olds.

Meanwhile, a separate poll of 19,000 workers from around the world born between 1982 and 1996 found that UK millennials work an average of 41 hours per week. Millennials in India were found to be putting in the most hours: an average of 52 per week.

The study, by ManpowerGroup, also found that 12 per cent of UK millennials expect to work until the day they die, compared to 37 per cent in Japan and just 3 per cent in Spain.

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  • While I think this article is useful in pointing to a potential problem I cannot help wondering if it is possibly a little presumptuous.

    Firstly the very concept of flexitime might mean people choose to work thorough their lunch-hours in order to "make up their hours" (in itself a possibly antiquated approach to work!) If they have other commitments outside work this may be a very efficient way for them to spread their time in order to meet all their commitments.

    Secondly, while working through lunch hour can undoubtedly present a problem, but the phrase "working or online" is ambiguous. People could be online but simply playing games or doing their shopping. For some people that might be just as relaxing as going outside or any of the other activities inferred.

    There is also the possibility that one is "in the flow" and so engrossed in one's work that one is barely conscious of the passage of time. Or, if not that engrossed, it is also possible that the break disruptions the concentration and makes it more difficult to get back to the task at hand afterwards. I know I often experience that!

    Less of an issue but perhaps also worth consideration, is the exclusive focus on lunch-hour. Increasingly we are told that health and well-being demand regular breaks, so perhaps there should be a case for more regular breaks rather than a lunch HOUR.

  • I'm reading this while sipping my tea and having a break. So, I'm as guilty as the rest.