Skipping lunch breaks (or skimping on them) is a common feature of UK workplaces, fuelled by double dip recessions, job insecurities and cultures of presenteeism. The effects of working without taking adequate breaks and lunch breaks are well documented and can build up over time, contributing to decreased productivity, increased stress levels and even physical illness.

This is because the human brain is not built for extended periods of concentration, but instead has two modes – focused and diffused. The more relaxed and diffused state once associated with ‘day dreaming’ actually plays an important role in problem solving, maintaining motivation and regaining focus.

According to research from Bupa, a 2014 study of 2,000 full-time workers found nearly two thirds unable to take their legally required 20 minute break when working six hours or more and over a quarter stated that they never took any type of break during their working day.

Reasons given, included heavy workloads and managers setting a bad example, but in another study commissioned by Staples, one in five employees said guilt was the main reason for not stepping away from workplaces and taking lunch breaks. Even those that stated that they take lunch breaks, nearly half rarely left the workplace, almost a third ate at their desks, and two in five responded to work calls or emails whilst on a break!

So what can responsible employers do to help employees take lunch breaks?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. Change the Culture

Establish and encourage a break-encouraging workplace culture. Make it easy and guilt-free to take lunch breaks and re-charge by: taking breaks yourself, disconnecting from work-related technology, diarising breaks in work schedules to legitimise them, perhaps even changing their name to ‘insight’ breaks. Also consider moving the payment emphasis away from hours worked, to tasks achieved.

2. Experiment with Different Work Patterns

Encourage employees to try the Pomodoro method ie work in small 25 minute bursts, taking a 5 minute short break between each session. Then, after four bursts, taking a longer 30 minute break. This technique helps reduce distractions and speeds up the completion of work tasks.

Alternatively, try 90 minute work blocks – developed by researchers studying sleep cycles and the performance of successful musicians and athletes, these periods of time are known as ultradian rhythms and have been shown to improve performance when interspersed with regular breaks.

If work patterns are incompatible with either short or very specific bursts of activity, try taking two planned, 15 minute intermissions during the day, which have been proved to increase productivity and reduce mistakes and accidents in the workplace.

3. Promote Productivity-Boosting Activities

Walking – a 20 minute stroll can increase blood flow to the brain, enhance brain connectivity and even improve memory and cognitive performance.

Healthy Eating – eating away from desks/work stations has shown to reduce mindless eating, snacking and overeating.

Exercise – 7-10 minute work-outs can significantly increase energy levels.  Don’t forget the eyes either – try taking 20 second breaks and looking at objects that are 20 feet away.

Doodling – allowing the mind to wander with pen and paper during creative free time helps to stimulate new ideas and actually maintains focus.

Music – listening to music during lunch breaks can improve both motor and reasoning skills, as well as act as a stress reliever.

Talking – talking with colleagues can help reduce stress levels and increase productivity levels amongst co-workers.

Meditation – meditating has proved to be one of the most powerful ways to relax the brain in the shortest amount of time.

Napping – perhaps for the more progressive organisations, 10 minute day-time naps have shown to improve cognitive function and decrease fatigue.

Social Media – Contrary to popular belief, a few minutes spent ‘messing about’ online can refresh the brain more than when texting or sending emails.


Please share your own ideas below or let me know if you try any of the above – don’t ditch lunch breaks, have a happy ‘insight’ break!

Don’t forget about annual leave either – find out more in my previous article about holidays.

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