Balancing Act: The 22 min lunch hour reveals a real disruption to work-life balance
Guest Blog by Brett Moffatt, Managing Director (EMEA) of Talent Intelligence.
Studies show the effects of ‘quick lunch-breaks’ are detrimental to employee’s mental and physical health. The average lunch break – just 22 minutes according to one estimate – may increase the risk of premature death by 60 per cent. It’s entirely preventable – so why is our work-life ratio still so unbalanced?
UK employees are losing up to 18 days a year by not taking full advantage of their lunch hour. Recent studies by ukactive and Sodexo have pointed out that the average lunch hour has decreased to 22 minutes since 2012 causing more employee dissatisfaction and unproductivity.
According to this survey, 90 per cent of all employees stipulate that the guarantee of a lunch break is critical for accepting a new job, but more than half take a quick 30-minute break – citing their fear of being judged by their co-workers or employers as their main reason for cutting it short.
In North America, a Tork study has emphasized the differing attitudes between bosses and employees: 88 per cent of employers think their employees would say they are encouraged to take their full lunch hour, while only 62 per cent of employees feel like that is the case.
This sentiment can hinder work productivity over the long run: it is a potential contributor in the development of work stress, mental illness and other health risks.
We know that sedentary office life is a health risk, with studies finding that sitting for eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by 60 per cent. A Lancet study has suggested that one daily hour of activity offsets the harm.
It comes as no surprise that employees feel they cannot step away from their desk at lunchtime.
But the same Tork survey in North America found that it is the minority – 34 per cent – of employers who evaluate their employees based on how often they take their full lunch break. Just 22 per cent believe those who take longer breaks are less hardworking.
BRINGING BACK THE LUNCH HOUR
Even if employers were to think that the shorter their employees took for lunch , the more work will get done, the evidence suggests that saving time in your lunch break is probably a false economy.
The likelihood of a short lunch break leading to a gain in productivity per-hour is slim but the long-term health benefits of taking a stroll and some fresh air at lunch are enormous.
Taking time away from the desk, to enjoy lunch and some fresh air, has not only been found to help reduce stress, but increase engagement and restore energy levels, which ultimately leads to employees being more productive in the afternoon upon returning to their desk.
Something as simple as an hour lunch break may lead to the improved employee engagement many companies are looking for, and help them to retain important talent.
But how can this be done if employees feel there is a stigma attached to an hour-long lunch break?
The belief that not taking a long lunch break is perceived as a display of dedication to the job has become too common. The surveys show that the majority of employers and bosses are happy for their staff to take breaks.
To really combat this, the necessary culture change must start from the top and employers must pave the way in disrupting this unbalancing act.
Employers must stop reinforcing this behaviour and address the false perceptions directly; they should acknowledge the danger of encouraging a ‘workaholic’ outlook.
If those at the top practice a 22-minute lunch break, it becomes company convention. Employers can start by ensuring employees that lunch breaks are there to be taken and by setting a positive example among senior leaders.
Encouraging other benefits outside of the work place can also go a long way in creating a culture whereby employees don’t feel limited to a short stint away from their desk. This could be anything from a work sport team, to a monthly film club or a discounted gym membership.
It is time for business to bring back ‘the 60-minute-lunch-hour’.