There's no such thing as a free lunch (break)


Most people are fully entitled to enjoy one wonderful hour a day where they tuck into a delicious lunch, kick back with a book, or browse the shops for some ‘me’ time; but in a culture of high workloads and low job security, many workers are left feeling guilty, or altogether unwilling, to take their daily lunch breaks.

So it will probably come as a surprise to the worriers that a reassuring 85% of employers think it’s perfectly acceptable for employees to take advantage of their full lunchtime entitlement; compared to 64% of jobseekers.

According to the 1998 Working Time Regulations, everyone is entitled to a 20 minute break when working more than six hours; but extra breaks can be given by employers, with an hour for lunch being most common. However, whilst employers have a responsibility to make sure their workers can take lunch breaks, they’re not obliged to make them.

In 2011, BUPA found that only 30% of employees were taking a lunch hour: more than a third (34%) experienced pressure from managers to work through their lunches, and half blamed the weight of their workloads for standing in the way of their daily break; but whatever the reason, the impact this can have is significant. Many studies have shown that an overworked employee will ultimately prove unproductive; not to mention that fact that stress and overworking could have worrying health implications.

A positive cultural shift in the workplace towards taking proper lunch breaks - even organising fun lunchtime outings as a team - would not only improve overall employee wellbeing, but productivity as well. Nearly all employees (99%) agree with this, and could set an example by breaking the bad habit of skipping lunch or eating at their desks.

Reaping the benefits

There’s a big culture of lunch-break denial in the UK, as many employees think their boss won’t like them taking time out from the office, or that colleagues will think they’re slacking when there’s a lot of work to be done; but with a little change in mindset, employers and workers alike will realise that by taking lunch hours away from their desks, productivity, stamina and enjoyment will soar.

Of course it’s just as important that when you do get away from work, you detach yourself psychologically as well as physically. If you’re stressed about being away from your desk, you won’t feel the benefits. And on that note, it’s a good idea to avoid talking about work if you take your break with a colleague. Introduce a ‘no work talk’ rule for the duration of your lunch hour, and actually enjoy the diversion that different conversation can bring.

Striking a balance

Understandably, 60% of the employers that we surveyed believe that regularly taking long lunches is not acceptable; compared with 57% of jobseekers. If you’re going to make the most of your allotted hour, just make sure you respect the boundaries.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the amount of smoking breaks you take. Almost a fifth of employers (18%) believe smoking breaks are simply unacceptable; compared with just 27% of employees.

Luckily, employers are a little more understanding when it comes to tea breaks (good old England), with 25% deeming them always acceptable. Interestingly, just 16% of employees share this view; meaning that workers may be judging the strictness of their employers a little unfairly.

Be careful to mind the small breaks you take throughout the day - even though it is advisable to get away from your computer for 5 minutes every hour, just for a minute or two - but don’t underestimate the importance of taking the lunch break that you’re entitled to. We know it won’t always be possible, but it shouldn’t be a rare occurrence.

And whatever you do to enjoy it, make sure you do just that:  enjoy.

Download our ahead of the game research on lunch breaks.