Lunch breaks are definitely not a waste of time

Some four million workers say they never take a full lunch hour, three quarters take less than 30 minutes, and 12 million eat at their desks or on the go, research has suggested. What’s more, 3 in 5 employees claim ‘pressure at work’ prevents them from leaving the office at lunchtime. Yet, by encouraging employees to stop working occasionally, employers might find they’re more, not less, productive, as well as healthier and more active.

With detrimental impacts upon staff performance, unhealthy lunch break habits are not good news for employers. In essence, by creating an environment that, superficially, is constantly busy, employers actually run the risk of making their teams less efficient, creative, productive and engaged – because they never get a chance to switch off and regroup

According to a poll by healthcare provider healthcare provider Simplyhealth, some four million people say they are too busy to take a full lunch hour, while 12 million admit to either eating at their desk or on the move.

Separately, but in much the same vein, research by employee benefits provider Edenred has argued that almost three quarters (73%) of UK workers take less than 30 minutes for their lunch break.

Breaking the results down further, the Simplyhealth Everyday Health Tracker research concluded younger workers, or those aged 18-24, were more likely to feel they never had time to leave the office during their working day, with 14% saying this compared to just 5% of over 45s.

Moreover, the finger of blame for having to work this way was firmly pointed at their employers. Indeed, new data released just yesterday from the National Charity Partnership (NCP), a collaboration between Diabetes UK, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and Tesco, corroborates this. Their recent study found that office workers say heavy workloads (32%), workplace culture (14%) and stress (13%) are to blame for not getting away from their desks for a walk at lunchtime.

But importantly, and most interesting from the health perspective, there was also a recognition from workers of all ages that this wasn’t a healthy way to live their lives. When asked what steps employers could take to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle at work, employees ranked these as their top five:

1. Encourage all staff to take a proper lunch break (42%)

2. Offer free fruit and/or free healthier food options (38%)

3. Provide facilities for staff to bring in their own healthy lunch (35%)

4. Offer flexible working hours (34%)

5. Offer gym membership/exercise class as employee benefits (33%)

Likewise, 9/10 workers in the NCP survey reported that being outside makes them feel healthier or more positive.

Indeed, as BHWA founder member Gavin Bradley from Active Working, emphasises, employers and employees alike need to stop seeing lunch as simply a fuel stop for employees midway through the working day, and therefore something that should ideally cut into working time as little as possible.

“Lunch breaks are not just for eating – they also provide the perfect opportunity for activity. We ask all our staff to take a 15-minute walk at lunch and to take another co-worker along,” he points out. “This has multiple benefits, which include: stimulating muscle groups, boosting oxygen flow to the brain to encourage creativity, mindfulness and above all wellness,” he adds.

Employers can definitely benefit from changing this behaviour, confirms Charlotte Cross, Director of the Better Health at Work Alliance, “Poor lunch habits result in just another form of presenteeism at best. 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, improving lunch break habits shouldn’t be overlooked” 

‘You are what you eat’ is a well-known rule of thumb. It applies at work too. Within business, it is important to recognise that what your staff eat can affect their productivity and overall wellbeing. 

Workplace nutrition expert Rachel Linstead from Firecracker UK Ltd explains “The right food and nutrition ensures we work effectively and efficiently. It’s a simple science; Without a lunch break over the course of the afternoon your energy levels drop and productivity will slow as you get that mid-afternoon energy slump”

And as Romana Abdin, chief executive of Simplyhealth, has also argued, what this highlights is how the distinction between health, wellbeing and needing to maximise productivity can often become blurred.

She said: “While it’s concerning that people feel not taking a lunch break has a detrimental impact their health, it is encouraging that they want to do something about it. Employees want their employers to establish a culture where taking a proper lunch break is the norm but they need to take responsibility too.” 


What are the solutions?

Read our BLOG on SOLVING LUNCH BREAKS from BHWA Director, Charlotte Cross, to find out more from the experts on how lunch breaks (amazingly) impact working environment, stress levels  - and some simple SUGGESTIONS for lasting improvements!

 

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