Why you really need to start taking lunch breaks at work

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Anna Brech
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Once upon a time - we imagine – office workers paused work in the middle of the day for long, languid lunch breaks with three-course meals and cognacs.

But nowadays, we’re fortunate if we can squeeze in a rushed avocado wrap from the deli next door. 

The erosion of the lunch break is a sad fact of modern times, and a recent study has brought home just how much we sacrifice by not taking time out.

The average Briton spends just 34 minutes on a break in the middle of the day, research by flexible working space firm Workthere has found. As Refinery29 points out, that equates to 12 days a year that we’re effectively handing to our employers on a plate. Entirely for free.

The survey of 2,000 office workers discovered that – surprise, surprise - Londoners are least likely to take a lunch hour, followed by employees in Birmingham, Manchester and Norwich. 

Depressingly, office workers eat lunch at their desk on average four days per week and even when they do take a break, they often don’t leave the office – 37 percent say they rarely go outside.

A culture of presenteeism is partly to blame for the fact that we’ve fallen out of the habit of taking lunch. We feel like we’re slacking off slightly if we take a full hour every single day (something that is well within our rights).

And yet in this day and age, we’re increasingly aware that workplace happiness goes hand-in-hand with productivity – so we ought to know better.

“We have seen wellness establish itself firmly on the workplace agenda with employers increasingly recognising the benefits of ensuring staff are content, happy and most importantly, in good health,” says Cal Lee, founder and head of Workthere.

"Part of this is creating a productive office environment where employees feel comfortable taking a longer lunch break and engaging with colleagues.”

In 2015, Stylist launched our Reclaim Your Lunch Break campaign, to challenge the UK’s lunch break culture and get our readers out of the office in pursuit of a better work-life balance.

We wanted people (ourselves included) to reap the benefits of a full hour off, with a series of events and workshops around the country – and we persuaded 100 companies to join us on our mission.

“There’s an underlying assumption by employees that you’re a wimp if you take lunch, or that you’re not committed to your job,” says Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, who believes this culture of ‘presenteeism’ has developed because people were scared of losing their jobs during the recession.

But actually, we’re sabotaging ourselves by staying at our desks. Multiple studies show people who take regular, full lunch breaks are less stressed, happier and more creative

 “And it’s not only about physical health,” says Cooper. “We need full-spectrum light, so it’s important to physically get out of a building.”

Of course, people in different cultures don’t necessarily adhere to the UK’s lacklustre approach to lunch.

The long lunch break of the Spaniards has been the source of envy for people around the world, with many companies coming to a standstill for a three-hour meal with wine and coffee.

However, as the Financial Times reports, it’s not all good news since this generally leads to a later finish of 7pm or 8pm – which is especially difficult for working mums.

“Our working hours are a disaster for family life and for women in particular,” says Anna Mercadé, who heads the Observatory for Women, Business and the Economy at the Barcelona chamber of commerce. “One-third of professional women in senior positions abandon their careers when they have children. That is a systematic loss of talent.”

The Danes, however, really do appear to have it nailed. As honorary Danish resident and journalist Helen Russell explains to Stylist, overtime is frowned upon in Denmark and the average working day runs from 8am-4pm.

It’s no coincidence, then, that Denmark has one of the happiest workforces in the world and is the second most productive country in the EU

So, the next time you find yourself habitually glued to your desk on a lunch break, think twice: you’ll be much more content if you head out and embrace the full 60 minutes. Every last second of them.

Images: iStock


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.