Mandatory lunch breaks?

Does the future of work include mandatory (or strongly encouraged) lunch breaks?

A new People Management article by Dr Preethi Daniel discusses the impact of eating lunch at your desk on productivity. I've included a few quotes below:

'By skipping lunch or not getting the right lunch, you starve your brain and muscles of the key nutrients needed to function at peak level.'

'Lack of hydration and glucose as fuel means irritability, poor concentration and ultimately poor performance.'

'Providing access to fresh fruit or nuts to snack on instead is more likely to lead to a happy workforce.'

'Employers should encourage night workers to snack less and eat a balanced meal of lean protein and vegetables.'

'Neurones in the brain get tired and eating at the desk is not considered to be a good way to replenish cognitive stock.'

  • I don't think mandatory lunch breaks is the right answer, because people should have some choice over how they use their time at work. While I don't think it's healthy to regularly skip a lunch break, sometimes it's necessary to grab something on-the-go or eat at your desk if you want to, and it can actually help you feel more in control of your day. Employers should focus on enabling people to be healthy at work by providing advice and support, rather than enforcing rules. It can be a problem if people don't feel they have enough time to take a lunch break due to work load or meetings, or because their team has a culture of skipping lunch breaks. Training line managers to recognise these issues is really important.
  • Another, rather practical, point is if lunch breaks are to be enforced, then the employer should provide adequate space away from the workspace - a number of places I've worked simply haven't offered that so I've chosen to eat at my desk as there is nowhere else to go.

    In my current job, we have approx 250 office staff in the building and one small kitchen with a table and four chairs. Our office is on the outskirts of the city, next to a busy main road but the only amenity is a designer shopping outlet approx fifteen minutes walk away. In a previous job, there were 100 people in my department alone and probably more like 500 office staff on site (never mind factory staff) but there was one coffee bar that seated approx 20 people and a canteen that seated approx 100.

    In contrast, my last employer had a modern office with a huge breakout area - it would be used for meetings or relaxing and always seemed to be large enough for the number of staff wanting to use it. At another previous employer, staff were encourage to set up and run lunch time clubs - we had a book club and a knitting/crochet club.

    In my next job (which I start in May), my office is located in a beautiful city centre park, full of historic buildings and running down to the river. I think I will be eating my lunch there on nice days!

    What is everyone's else's idea of the perfect lunch location and what would you like your employer to provide?

  • Ugh, that article is full of all sorts of sound bites that are not supported in nutritional research - big dinners are bad, breakfast most important meal of the day, starving the brain and muscles - none of that has sufficient and robust evidence. i don't think employers are at all qualified to be providing advice to staff as it's often really difficult to tell where the rubbish information is (taking any advice from Gwyneth Paltrow for example) .

    I agree that having regular breaks away from the desk throughout the day, including lunch are great ways of refreshing the brain which for me is the main take away that employer can be more pro active with.
  • In reply to Joanne O'Hagan:

    Totally agree about the sound bitesJoanne

    'Providing access to fresh fruit or nuts to snack on instead is more likely to lead to a happy workforce.'

    "Instead" of what? snacks specifically designed by dieticians with the particular activity in mind? 12lbs of cold, salty porridge?

    "More likely than" what? sticking a pointed stick into people's biceps? Providing back massages every thursday afternoon at 14h37? Paying a basic salary of at least £103,056?

  • In reply to Joanne O'Hagan:

    Absolutely agree Joanne - we've heard recently just how little training GPs actually receive on nutrition. If, as employers, we're going to venture down this road, let's at least consult with the relevant professionals i.e. Registered Nutritionists or Dietitians. (Written whilst I munch on a very late lunch at my desk!)
  • In reply to Ray:

    Given that the CIPD - and many of its members - have for years endorsed the entirely unproven and clinically-suspect practice of Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), there is no shortage of bulls*** psuedoscience already well invested into our professional territory.

    Given that we are now to focus on Evidence Based Practice (i.e. good, old-fashioned empiricism) perhaps we could start rolling this back along with the pseudoscience of nutritionists, chiropractors, homeopaths, acupuncturists and osteopaths*.

    *Yes, I know that some of these (chiropractic and acupuncture) are supported by limited evidence showing beneficial effects on a small set of conditions, but they still claim efficacy in a much wider range of conditions for which there is no empirical evidence.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Our analysis of the lunch break shows that there are four ways to experience a lunch break and recover from work:

    • Psychological detachment: not thinking about work tasks on the lunch break.
    • Relaxation: physical or mental.
    • Control: being able to choose how to spend the lunch break.
    • Relatedness: feeling part of a group.

    It seems that psychological detachment is the least needed out of these four. Would you agree?

  • In reply to Ray:

    Unexpectedly snorted really loudly at Rays comments and attracted a few funny looks from colleagues :D

    Employers should definitely encourage workers to have their breaks away from work to reset, by encourage I think I mean just ensure that people don't FEEL they have to work through breaks or have lunch "on the go".

    Anything else feels like its entering into Patronising Territory to me. I'm picturing someone advising my nearly 40 year old, 6ft 2ins, rectangular looking bloke to eat less snacks, and eat lean protein and vegetables, I'd give anything to be a fly on the wall during that chat.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Having worked for an osteopathic college for many years (previously, not now), I could engage with debate here but I fear it would have very little do with HR. However a couple of points just because I can't slide past without correcting the record a little - osteopaths and chiropractors are registered professions (so you have to be registered with the relevant body to practice in the UK) and the General Osteopathic Council and the General Chiropractic Council take action against any of their profession that make claims that breach the Advertising Standards Agency guidelines. The ASA guidelines are based on evidence that has been accepted, which sets out what each profession can state in their communications.
  • I'm a big advocate of staff getting away from their desks to have a break. I can't cite any evidence based reasoning but there a number of reasons why it seems to make sense:
    1 - It's hygienic - just pick up your keyboard right now, turn it upside down, and shake it. That's dirt. I don't want to add rotting food to that.
    2 - It's unsightly - people eating is never a spectator sport.
    3 - It's too tempting to carry on working - if we need a break, we need a break.
    Actually, only 3 reasons.