Just 30 per cent of UK workers take proper lunch breaks

Experts warn working through lunch is ‘another form of presenteeism’

Employers have been urged to encourage proper lunch breaks after research revealed that seven in 10 Brits often spend theirs working or online.  A survey of 1,700 workers by the National Charity Partnership found that 24 per cent work through their typical lunch break and a further 46 per cent spend it on the internet.

The charity – a coalition of Diabetes UK, the British Heart Foundation and supermarket giant Tesco – warned that spending unbroken days in offices could affect employees’ mental and physical health.  More than three in 10 workers polled said having too much work was a barrier to getting out for a lunchtime stroll. One in eight blamed stress levels, and a similar proportion cited workplace culture.  Other reasons given included a preference for the internet over the outdoors and ‘I can’t be bothered’.

However, nine in 10 people said getting outside made them feel happier or more positive.  Jenna Hall, programme director for the National Charity Partnership, said work-related stress led to almost 10 million lost working days in 2014-15.   “Managers and staff have a joint responsibility to ensure regular breaks are taken during the working day,” she said.  “Employers should promote a workplace culture where staff feel able to take breaks.”

Employers would benefit from changing their workers’ lunchtime behaviour, said Charlotte Cross, director at the Better Health at Work Alliance.  Women appeared more likely to spend their breaks indoors, with just 15 per cent having lunch outside, according to the survey, compared with 35 per cent of men. Employees over the age of 24 are more than twice as likely to work through lunch as 18 to 24-year-olds.

Meanwhile, a separate poll of 19,000 workers from around the world born between 1982 and 1996 found that UK millennials work an average of 41 hours per week. Millennials in India were found to be putting in the most hours: an average of 52 per week.

The study, by ManpowerGroup, also found that 12 per cent of UK millennials expect to work until the day they die, compared to 37 per cent in Japan and just 3 per cent in Spain.

Greg Pitcher