Have A Break, Have A … Lunch
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Coming from teaching, the concept of taking a break for lunch has always been laughable. I have spent years desperately marking books with one hand and trying to shovel in some food with the other. I would cringe every time the door opened as it was sure to herald a meal-time assistant coming to fetch me because one of my kids had tried to escape from school grounds, or had punched another kid or was refusing to eat their lunch and leave their seat. I knew this wasn’t a healthy way of working and it most definitely took its toll, but it was what I felt like I had to do.
Having left the world of education, I now have an entire hour, a full sixty minutes of uninterrupted time to take. What an earth am I going to do with that? I thought. After years of perfecting working while eating and managing to inhale my pitiful lunch in one minute and thirty seconds, I couldn’t quite imagine how I would fill the remaining fifty eight minutes thirty.
In many businesses, employees are guilty of taking a ‘working lunch’ and eating at their desks; in some work places it is even encouraged. In a survey by Total Jobs, 68% of the participants skipped lunch altogether, using high work loads and unexpected tasks as the justification. Unsurprisingly, research has shown that this is not good for us.
We all know we should take a lunch break and, in fact, legally speaking we must take a break depending on the hours we have worked. So why aren’t we? Workload is often cited as the main reason why employees choose to lunch at their desk if they lunch at all. Another is a lack of a place to lunch; many offices or business parks don’t have a designated lunch room or staff room or if they do it is just somewhere too depressing to visit. Humans are of course social creatures and if we don’t have anyone to lunch with, sitting at your desk with your sandwich seems less sad than sitting in an empty room, or, worse still, sitting on your own in a room full of people.
We all work to varying levels of pressure in our work environments and the idea of working through lunch often seems the best way to us (and often to our employer) of getting the most done possible. However, research shows that this may not be the case. A study by the University of Illinois showed that taking breaks actually boosts the productivity of workers. A further study by the University of Queensland showed that people who took a lunch break in a restaurant with friends or co-workers reported feeling more relaxed than those who lunched on their own in the office. Finally, in 2017, an article published in The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology concluded that people who engage in recovering activities (such as taking a walk or engaging in mindful relaxation) during lunch breaks experience higher levels of well-being at the end of a working day.
There is a vast amount of research that shows the benefits of exercise and leaving the office during your lunch break, including a study from Stanford that found taking a walk can reduce your risk of depression and a study in The British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking for ½ a mile can reduce brain fatigue. Despite this, further research shows that a third of UK employees never leave their workplace after they arrive in the morning and more than half don’t take their full lunch break, even though two out of three felt encouraged to do so.
For the health of employees and businesses alike, something needs to change. We are calling upon you, our lovely readers, to be a part of that change. Perhaps you are already an advocate for taking your lunch break and can tell us about what you do and how it helps with your working day. Or it may be that you were like me; confounded by the idea of a whole hour’s break and uninspired with what to do. Or perhaps you simply need someone to nag you into taking that time. Whatever your lunch break situation, we would love to hear from you as we dedicate the rest of the working week to posting articles full of ideas for how to fill your lunch breaks. We’ll also be promoting these on social media to lovingly remind you to get away from your screens and get some dinner down you.
Get in touch on social media by tagging in @GrowExeter or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .