Let's not do lunch: Is skipping breaks reducing British productivity?

Most workers are missing lunch, according to a new survey. But is it really bad for productivity? Put down your sandwich and find out.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 18 Feb 2015

You’re all working too hard. That’s the bad news, according to research by BUPA that says British workers regularly skip their lunch break. The worse news is that apparently this sacrifice is in vain - we’re not actually getting more done.

The survey of 2,000 full-time workers found that two thirds failed to take their statutory minimum 20-minute break every day, while only 29% always took a full hour. The quality of the ‘breaks’ seems dubious as well – a third eat at their desk and 40% do emails or make phone calls over lunch.

The sting is the apparent effect all this has on productivity. Skipping lunch made 30% feel ill during the afternoon, 40% felt it reduced their productivity and 52% said it put them in a bad mood.

‘Not only does this affect productivity levels, but it can have far wider implications on business performance,’ said Patrick Watt, corporate director at Bupa. ‘Taking a proper break helps employees to stay alert, focused, and performing at their peak.’

So why are we missing lunch if it reduces what we actually get done? Could low blood sugar and fatigue be affecting our judgement or even, dare we say it, making us stupid? Have those who fear the boss’s wrath not seen the Office Angels survey that found 85% of employers don’t mind people taking their full lunch entitlement?

It’s easy to get carried away here. For a start, productivity is about work rate, not output. Working for longer might actually offset the reduction in postmeridian efficiency. Besides, surveys based on how people feel don’t tell you much about what actually gets done. While there's plenty of evidence saying we need breaks, that doesn't mean we're not getting enough.

Nonetheless, on balance there are strong reasons to take your middays easy. Next time you feel the urge to sprint down to the vending machine rather than take a slow, sit down meal, consider which professions take the longest lunches.

According to serviced offices company Business Environment, 38% of bankers and insurance professionals enjoyed an hour-long break, while 35% of those in catering never take lunch. Anyone who’s read the messages from the forex-fixing scandal will know bankers still seem pretty energetic at 4pm in the afternoon, so they must have been doing something right.

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