12 important reasons you should take a lunch break

It can be easy for many of us to forget or even choose to skip our lunch break while we’re at work!

A survey carried out by Total Jobs asked over 7,000 workers across the UK about their work lunch habits, and the findings are as follows:

  • 56% of British workers don’t take their full lunch break, with the average worker taking a mere 27 minutes. 
  • A staggering 25% of those surveyed admitted to skipping lunch entirely between two and four times a week!
Photo: The Sun

A study carried out by the Sun discovered that 50% of workers will typically dine at their desks “al-desko”.

The findings are startling and could lead to mental health and physical issues in the future if not addressed sooner rather than later.

A few reasons why people don’t take lunch breaks include:

Ignorance concerning worker rights

20% of UK workers aren’t taking their lunch break because they don’t realise their employers are legally required to designate them a break time.

According to the GOV.UK websiteBritish workers are entitled to one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during their working day if they work more than 6 hours a day. This could be a tea or lunch break. The break doesn’t have to be paid—it depends on the individual’s employment contract.

The GOV.UK website also states that employers can say when employees take rest breaks during work time as long as:

  • the break is taken in one go somewhere in the middle of the day (not at the beginning or end)
  • workers are allowed to spend it away from their desk or workstation (i.e. away from where they actually work)

Although 20 minutes is the legal requirement for a lunch break, most employers offer an hour out of the day to do as you please. Usually, this period is unpaid. Only the most generous employers will pay for rest breaks.

JBH Refurbishments

Other reasons people fail to take their lunch break include:

An unreasonable workload

If your workload is too high or your boss is piling on the pressure, you need to grow a backbone and speak up. You’re an adult, not a child at nursery.

Poor time management

If you’re not taking lunch because you’re not productive throughout the rest of the day, you need to take a look at what you’re doing wrong, e.g.

  • Are you distracted by your phone? Hide it in a drawer.
  • Always answering emails? Turn email notification pop-ups off and designate set times during the day to answer emails.
  • Is a colleague always talking to you? Explain politely that you can’t talk right now but will do so at the end of the day (or some other time when your work is likely to be completed).

12 reasons why you should take a lunch break

There are many science-backed reasons why we should take your lunch break—and I do mean “break”, i.e. stepping away from your desk, allowing yourself to eat in peace and giving yourself a mental break from the tasks at hand. Your body requires energy and hydration to function properly, which is where your lunch break comes in—the fact that your body needs food doesn’t stop being true just because you’re having a busy day at work. When your body goes too long without food, it can go into starvation mode, leading to health-related issues (especially if you have diabetes).

There are many benefits to taking your lunch break, but listed below are nine reasons why I personally believe it’s important to do so:

1 Gives your brain a rest

Taking short breaks from our work—even just a few minutes at a time—can make a huge difference in our concentration levels. Basically, all of our decision making and interpersonal interactions gradually deplete our brain’s energy over the course of the day. If we don’t give it some time away from our responsibilities (and especially if we’re not even refuelling our brains with something to eat), it’s a recipe for an afternoon slump where we’re struggling to get through the rest of the dayTaking your lunch break and putting your work on hold for as little as 20 minutes can increase your productivity for the entire day.

2 Gives your eyes a break

For many of us, work involves staring at a screen for a good portion of the day, whether it’s a computer, a laptop, mobile phone, tablet, or something else entirely. If you’ve ever spent more than two consecutive hours looking at a screen, studies show that you may be hurting your eyes. Computer eye strain may result, which doesn’t appear to cause permanent damage. Still, it can cause a lot of temporary discomfort for those it affects, e.g. if you’ve spent countless hours staring at your screen and you realize your eyes feel red, dry, tired, or blurry, you may be experiencing computer eye strain.  If you take your lunch break away from your desk and keep yourself from staring at your phone, this could give your eyes the relief they desperately need to balance out all of that screen time.

3 Gives you time to re-charge

Some workers believe the boss would prefer you to work through your lunch hour. Some staff even believe working without breaks will give them brownie points with the boss. In actual fact bosses of big organisations are in favour of staff taking that dedicated hour for themselves.

As an example, Healthclub entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den star, Duncan Bannatyne recently published an article in The Telegraph. He said:

“You might think that encouraging employees to take regular breaks and full lunch hours would be bad for business. I take the opposite view. I think all employers should make the welfare of their staff a priority and that means making sure they break up the day and get out of the office at lunchtime, no matter how busy they might be.”

Duncan Bannatyne (Dragon’s Den)

Taking your lunch break gives you some time to yourself so you can re-charge. If you’re an introvert (like myself), it can feel draining to be in a work environment where you’re interacting with people all day.  Even a short burst of time alone with your thoughts may be just what your emotions need to recharge and replenish to get you through the remainder of the working day.

If you are more of an extrovert, you may find yourself craving chit chat at lunchtime, and it might be a good idea to encourage your co-workers to go to lunch with you or make space to talk in the work canteen (or Skype or use Messenger etc. during COVID lockdown).

4 You will be more productive

Employees who take breaks are more productive and creative. Breaks keep workers focused and engaged in their work which enables them to complete their tasks more accurately with fewer errors (Ferguson, n.d.).

5 Helps to reduce stress in the workplace

Breaks can also reduce stress. A stressful issue at work can contribute to negative behaviours such as irritability. Skipping lunch frequently can cause stress and fatigue. By taking a break away from the issue or having lunch or a snack, employees return re-energized and able to tackle the next task.

6 Reduces absenteeism from work

“People should love coming to work. It should be an enjoyable experience for both frontline staff and their managers. A stressed, anxious workforce is no good for anyone involved and can have a negative impact on the atmosphere in the workplace and levels of productivity.”

Duncan Bannatyne (Dragon’s Den)

One of the simplest ways to reduce stress in the workplace is to encourage staff to take regular breaks, including a proper lunch break.

7 Lets you eat more mindfully

Mindful eating basically encourages people to be present while they eat, so they’re enjoying their food and taking it in with all of the senses, i.e. taste, texture, smell, sight, and sound. This is in contrast, of course, to that feeling when you’re distracted by a hundred other things and then realize you’ve finished your entire meal before you’ve even tasted it!

Pubmed.gov carried out a study which showed Playing a computer game during lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake – PubMed (nih.gov) It discovered that distracted individuals were less full after lunch, and ate significantly more biscuits in the taste test than their non distracted participants (mean intake: 52.1 g compared with 27.1 g). Furthermore, serial-order memory for the presentation of the 9 lunch items was less accurate in participants who had been distracted.

If this is true (as the study suggests), being distracted from what you are eating rather than being mindful of what you are eating could lead to overeating, which in turn could lead to weight gain.

8 Reduces your risk of arthritis

Our bodies aren’t designed to sit at desks all day.  Moving your body during a 30-minute lunch break can vastly reduce the risk of conditions such as arthritis and chronic back and neck pain, says the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

9 Reduces the risk of heart disease

A walk at lunchtime can decrease the risk of developing 20 chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, says the British Heart Foundation.

Researchers at Warwick University found that postmen have a 30% lower risk of heart disease than office workers! 

These figures are concerning and show us just how important it is to move away from our desks/workstations during the day whenever possible.

10 Improves your mood

Designated lunch breaks reduce workers’ risk of depression by an average of 30%, British Heart Foundation research shows. According to a British Journal of Psychiatry report, exposure to sunlight slashes the risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

11 Gives you a vitamin boost

Vitamin D—made when our skin comes into contact with sunlight—is vital for healthy bones.

According to Public Health England, UK citizens are at an increased risk of Vitamin D deficiency during the winter months. However, if we spend 15+ minutes outside in available sunlight each day, this increases our Vitamin D levels (which helps prevent us from developing fragile bones).

12 Gives you a chance to run personal errands

Taking a proper lunch break will allow you to catch up on your personal life or run some errands, giving you more time to relax in the evening.

Protecting your lunch break will benefit you and your employer greatly if adhered to. You owe it to both.

If you have found this post informative and helpful in any way, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for visiting Eating Elephants!

NEXT WEEK: 20 must-know tips for working from home

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