Research shows that less than one third of UK workers take an hour off for lunch, with half saying that heavy workloads meant they worked through lunch. A study conducted by Leerdammer found that on average British workers only take 26 minutes and 28 seconds of lunch each day and all that lunchtime you miss adds up to working an extra 133 hours, equivalent to 19 unpaid days each year!
According to ACAS the 1998 Working Time Regulations (WTR) don’t specifically mention lunch breaks but do allow for one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during the working day, providing the working period is longer than 6 hours. Despite this, many employers are more than generous with their break time in their contracts of employment, with many employees entitled to enjoy one wonderful hour a day dedicated to eating, refuelling and relaxing away from their desks.
The UK has a big culture of lunchtime denial and reasons for cutting lunchbreak short, blaming pressure from bosses, or employees thinking that skipping lunch will impress their employers and worry that their bosses won’t like them taking time out from the office, or colleagues thinking they’re slacking when there is lots of work to be done. This worry is all for nothing, as employers think it is perfectly acceptable for their employees to take full advantage of their lunchtime, and, whilst you can encourage your employee to take their well earned break, you can’t legally force them to take the time out.
On the flip side, employers will not tolerate employees regularly taking extended lunch breaks and understandably so. Whilst you should always encourage your employees to make the most of their allotted break times, you need to ensure that they know the boundaries and respect them. One thing that us Brits do love is our tea breaks (obviously) and employers agree, although you should monitor the frequency of these, as they shouldn’t be compensating for the lack of time that your employees decide to take at their allotted lunchtime.
It is crucial that workers take breaks. It can be easy to get into the habit of quickly getting some food down before you carry on with your tasks but a lunch break should be exactly that, a break. It is only by having a good, proper break from work that they get the chance to refresh their minds, socialise with colleagues, consume some healthy food and have a hope in hell of avoiding the afternoon slump that usually occurs around 3pm or in our office another tea break!
*This post was originally published by breatheHR and has been updated.