If you've been under pressure at work in recent years, you're not alone. It seems as if it's getting harder and harder just to get a brief respite from the daily grind. According to a 2013 BBC survey (1), more than half - 54 per cent - of employees polled said they regularly found themselves working through their lunch break. In addition, 53 per cent of respondents felt that there was a widespread culture of skipping lunch breaks at their workplace, while 20 per cent said that they had come under pressure to work through their lunch break.

This is perhaps why so many of us feel a distinct sense of guilt on the rare occasions we do manage to get away and enjoy a decent lunch break. The law, however, doesn't have a great deal to say about lunch breaks. The Working Time Regulations state that workers are entitled to one uninterrupted 20-minute break in any continuous six-hour working period, while those over school leaving age but under 18 are entitled to a 30-minute break for every four-and-a-half-hours. In practice, though, even these meagre entitlements are all too often flouted by employers.

Despite all this, good lunch breaks are important - not just for your personal wellbeing, but also for your productivity at work. There are numerous reasons why you should find the time to take a proper lunch break, and it's worth taking a look at some of them in closer detail.

 Lunch breaks and what to do with them

 What to eat on your lunch break

 An article from the Daily Mail (2) offers some useful tips on the best foods to eat during your lunch break. It notes that your lunch break will need to sustain you right the way through the rest of the afternoon - which makes it all the more important to choose wisely. Foods that are rich in carbohydrate - such as pasta, white bread and potatoes - are likely to make you more lethargic as the day wears on, and so should be avoided. Instead, opt for wholegrain sandwiches or pasta. These release energy more slowly than white carbohydrates and are therefore less likely to have a tiring effect.

 Tuna, egg, cheese and chicken sandwiches and salads are all ideal, being low in carbohydrate and fat as well as containing plenty of protein. However, if you are going to opt for a salad then it's best to avoid mayonnaise, particularly if you're looking to keep the weight off. Soup is also a good choice for your lunch break, because it's nutritious and low in calories. Vegetable soup also counts towards your five portions of fruit and vegetables as recommended by nutritionists, so this is also something to bear in mind.

 Consider a change of scene

 As we touched on above, getting away from your desk can be a challenge if you're overloaded with work - and some employers tend to frown on it. Still, you should take in a change of scene when you can. There are a number of reasons why this is so, and an article from CTV News (3) lists some of them. First of all, eating your lunch away from your desk can actually help to boost your overall productivity. When you eat your lunch at your desk and stay there through your break, it can be hard to feel the benefit. By taking in a change of scene, however, you're likely to find that your ability to retain information is improved - and that helps you get through your work more easily.

Something as simple as a stroll through a park can really help to rejuvenate your senses, which are so often dulled by workplace routine. It's worth noting, though, that a walk through an urban area doesn't have quite the same effect - you're that busy looking out for people, traffic and other hazards that you're unlikely to be able to relax at all. It's also important to remember that sitting down for prolonged periods can be a potential health hazard, leaving you more susceptible even to conditions as serious as deep vein thrombosis.

What's more - and we might not like to think about it too much - work desks are frequently unhygienic. It's probably fair to say that most of us don't give this any thought before we sit down to devour a sandwich or whip out a snack, but it is true. Desks are frequently crawling with bacteria. All the more reason, then, to get away from your desk and take your lunch elsewhere.

 Lunch breaks are good for your health

 The most important reason to take proper regular lunch breaks is that, simply put, they're good for your health. Indeed, there's evidence to suggest a clear correlation between irregular or short lunch breaks and increased stress at work. According to a 2011 survey from Aviva Health (4), almost one in three workers questioned said they did not take a regular lunch break at work, while a quarter said they would do so only if their workload permitted and 13 per cent reported avoiding workplace meals altogether.

Among those organisations concerned by the current trend towards unduly curtailed or infrequent lunch breaks is the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, which has warned (5) that failing to take sufficient lunch breaks can have detrimental effects both to workers' health and their productivity. Failing to take adequate lunch breaks may result in higher levels of absence due to sickness, so it is in both workers' and employers' interest to tackle this particular problem.

Lunch breaks benefit everyone

Although many workers report being pressurised into skipping lunch breaks, good employers know that demoralised, worn out and unhealthy employees are of little use to anyone - so it really is to the benefit of both worker and employer for everyone to enjoy a good meal and a change of scenery at lunch. There are many steps employers can take to encourage workers to take regular lunch breaks. Perhaps the most obvious of these is to simply tell employees that they need to enjoy a proper lunch break - make it clear to them that they're not expected to keep their nose to the grindstone at all times.

Employers can also take pro-active steps to encourage workers to take regular lunch breaks and to be more physically active generally. Edenred incentives such as luncheon vouchers (6) or discounted gym memberships, to give just two examples, are particularly effective ways of nudging workers to take a break and get some exercise. This way, not only are workers' wellbeing and productivity likely to be improved but workplace relations more generally will probably be much healthier.

This post has been supplied by Edenred

References:

1)      http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hro/news/1076223/half-employees-lunch-b...

2)      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-24565/What-eating-lunch.html

3)      http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/health-headlines/5-reasons-to-get-out-...

4)      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/8722759/One-in-three-worker...

5)      http://www.riams.org/2014/06/06/take-a-lunch-break-to-stay-healthy/

6)      http://www.edenred.co.uk/luncheon-vouchers#.U-3NCeNdXzg

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Tags: Human Resources, health, lunch, work

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