Think what you could do with an extra hour in the day – walk in the park, catch up with a friend, go to the gym? With a whopping 82%* of UK workers no longer taking a full lunch hour, and 66% eating at their desk, Brits are putting in an estimated 19 extra days of work per year** munching a sarnie ‘al desko’.
Why? ‘The perception is that lunch is for wimps,’ says Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the Alliance Manchester Business School. ‘In these job-insecure times, people have got into the habit of having a 25-minute lunch at their desk – and the evidence is, it’s damaging on every level you can imagine.’
Prof Cooper argues that ‘regularly skipping entitled breaks not only affects productivity, it can also have damaging effects on work relationships.’ A 2014 study by Bupa suggests it can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health, too.
Bank the benefits
Taking time away from the office each day can have huge benefits, helping you re-energise your mind and body for the afternoon ahead. ‘Have lunch a reasonable walk from your office, then you get some exercise, too,’ suggests Professor Cooper.
According to the Chief Medical Officer, we should aim to do at least 150 minutes’ exercise a week, so a brisk walk could be just the thing to combat the harmful effects of sitting at a desk all day.
Escaping the office with colleagues is also the key to building important bonds, because it encourages you to talk about something other than work. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that chat and socialising during breaks significantly increases productivity, so having a natter about last night’s Corrie could be as good for business as it is for your brain – who knew?
Make a change
In 2014, employees surveyed by Bupa admitted their top two reasons for skipping lunch were having a heavy workload and feeling pressured by their boss. ‘Nothing has changed in 2017,’ says Professor Cooper. ‘We’ve developed a culture in which we feel the need to show face-time to bosses, by working longer hours and through lunch.’ The sooner you get into better habits, the sooner you’ll see your own wellbeing and working environment improve. But how to combat the pressure not to take a break?
Don’t be afraid to say you’ve got too much on your plate. Flag to your boss and co-workers that you often have to work through lunch and see if projects can be shared.
Make a plan. If you want to be sipping coffee in a café by 1.15pm, write a to-do list and get all of your morning tasks done by 12.45pm.
Leave for lunch at the same time each day so your co-workers see this as your time. If you need to, explain to your boss that a break makes you more productive – you’ll thank yourself later!
Use that extra hour to...
Get back to nature - Spending just 40 seconds looking out over a green space can help to improve concentration*** so pop to the park to recharge.
Change the subject - Take a screen break and chat to colleagues about holiday plans, or catch up with friends – just avoid gossiping or work moans!
Refocus your attention - Find inner calm with some meditation. Download a free app like Headspace or Calm to help you.
Discover new places - Explore the area around your workplace, and check out a market, museum, gallery or bookshop.
Move your body - Head to the gym, take an exercise class, have a swim – or just go for a brisk walk around the block.
Learn a language - Use an audio guide, podcast or app (try Duolingo) to start learning that language you’ve always wanted to or brush up before your holiday.
Go for a wander - Meander around your local area without a clear route and discover new places. Try a new café or pub, take photos of things that interest you or simply use the time to call your Mum for a catch-up.
*Mastercard and Ipsos Mori survey 2016
**Leerdammer survey 2015
***Source: University of Melbourne