19 June 2014

10 reasons why your staff should take a lunch break

As many staff skip lunch or eat it at their desk, here are some reasons and ways to encourage your employees to take their lunch break.

The traditional lunch break – or rather the lack of one – has hit the headlines again recently, with two separate surveys indicating that many office workers regularly work through their lunch.

An O2 poll found that workers take a paltry 15 minutes to eat their lunch and a quarter keep an eye on their emails as they eat. They’ve also estimated that a whopping 15.8 million workers are failing to take a full hour for lunch. These findings correspond to a BBC poll last year, which found that one in two employees work through their lunch break.

A recent survey by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy had somewhat less dire findings, with one in five regularly working through their lunch break. However, of those who took a break, half ate at their desk.

So why do workers decide to skip lunch?

According to the O2 poll, the main excuses were being too busy, feeling guilty about leaving their desk (one in six) or the cost of food. One in four said they take a packed lunch to save money.

The poll also discovered that personal tasks are eating into break times, with:

  • 40% logging on to internet banking
  • 39% making personal phone calls
  • 29% booking appointments
  • 28% shopping online and
  • 21% paying bills.

What are workers entitled to?

The law states that if your staff work six hours or more, they are entitled to a 20 minute break. This needs to be taken all in one go, somewhere in the middle of the day (they can’t tack it to the end of the day to leave early).

Most employers give their staff longer – most commonly an hour. However, you don’t have an obligation to make sure your workers take a break – this is down to them.

Reasons to take time to dine

While you may think it’s better for your business for your team to skip lunch, there’s a wealth of studies that indicate the opposite is true.  Here are just some of the many reasons why taking a lunch break can be good for your staff (and you too).

1. To eat! If you don’t refuel in the day, it’s likely that you’ll lose energy and find it harder to concentrate or get a headache later on in the day. That’s not good for your health or your productivity. And if you don’t always have a substantial breakfast, lunch is even more vital.

2. Reduce eye strain. Many office workers are sat at their desk, staring at a screen for the entire day, so a lunch break is time to give your eyes a break, as well as your mind. This also means you should try to avoid using your phone or tablet for at least part of lunch time, otherwise you’re just swapping one screen for another.

3. Increase your productivity. Numerous studies have found that people who take time out come back to work more refreshed than those who don’t. Your lunch break should be just that, a timeout from work, allowing you to recharge your energy. It can help you to be more creative and focused in the afternoon. According to Bupa, working through lunch costs businesses almost £50 million in lost productivity each day.

4. Reduce stress. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by your workload. Taking a step back getting away from your desk can help to reset your perspective, improve your mood and reduce feelings of stress.

5. Get away from ‘mindless eating’. If you eat uninterrupted, instead of working at the same time, you’ll be more aware of what you’re eating. You’ll probably enjoy it more and you’re more likely to realise when you’re full and avoid overeating (an incentive for anyone worried about their weight).

6. Keep your desk clean. Crumb-filled keyboards are a bacteria magnet. By not eating at your desk, you’re doing your health a favour.  

7. Connect with your colleagues. If you’re up to your eyes in work, chances are you don’t have much time to socialise with the others in your office. Taking a lunch break allows you to relax with other staff and get to know them a bit better.

8. Get some fresh air. When it’s nicer weather, try and get some fresh air. Sunlight stimulates Vitamin D production, which is important for your bones, as well as increasing the production of Serotonin (a mood regulator).

9. Fit exercise into your day. While moving around during your lunch break won’t prevent the health risks of prolonged sitting, it can help. If you’re able to fit in a lunchtime workout, that’s great, but even a brisk walk will burn extra calories and get your heart and lungs pumping. Regular walking can also keep weight in check, prevent osteoporosis and give you energy.

10. Run errands.  If you really don’t want to eat, relax or exercise in your lunch break, you can still spend your time well by catching up on your personal admin, like going to the post office or collect a few items of shopping. This can help save you time in the evening, while also giving you a break from what you’re working on.

How can you encourage lunch breaks?

It may be best to ask your staff directly, but you could also:

  • Make breaks positive. Since the surveys indicate that people often feel guilty about taking a breather from work, the obvious solution would be to make it the acceptable norm. Develop a culture that encourages your workforce to have a lunch break. This starts with you setting the example.
  • Provide somewhere for your staff to eat, so there is an alternative to sitting at their desk. If you’re based in one of our centres, there may be a communal area or café you can go to.
  • Create a policy that bans staff from eating at their desks. This might be a bit too formal for you, but depending on the size of your company and the staff it employs, it can confirm management commitment and stop peer pressure keeping workers at their desk.
  • Instigate staggered break times if office cover is an issue. Perhaps vary it up so that everyone has a chance to interact with one another during their downtime.

Do you have any more suggestions? If so, Tweet us @BizspaceUK.