Nearly a third of the UK’s workers are skipping lunch – a sign of just how much the nation is over-worked and under stress.
According to research from Aviva UK, 30 per cent of employees forego a lunch break – just a slight improvement on the 37 per cent who volunteered the same answer in 2009’s poll.
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The Aviva survey found that one in four workers will only take a lunch break if their workload allows them time to do so. These workers risk increasing their stress by not putting enough fuel in their tank but for some stressed workers over-eating, rather than under-eating is a big danger. Almost one in five (19 per cent) report that they eat too much at work.
The low quality, as much as the quantity, of the food that some stressed eaters consume during their working day is also a concern. With time at a premium it is tempting to graze on quick-fix junk food; nearly 15 per cent of workers believe that their health is being affected because of their unhealthy workplace diet.
It is a little surprising that less than half (43 per cent) of workers are encouraged to take a lunch break by their employers.
The law and work breaks
The Direct Gov website states that an adult worker will “normally have the right to a 20-minute rest break if they are expected to work more than six hours at a stretch”.
A lunch break can count as your work break. Other legal requirements stipulate that:
•The break must be in one block
•It should be taken near the middle, rather than at one end, of the working day
•You are allowed to spend it away from your workplace
Commenting on the importance of taking a lunch break, Dr Doug Wright, head of clinical development at Aviva, said: “Employees need to break the habit of skipping lunch or eating at their desks. A cultural shift in the workplace towards proper lunch breaks will improve overall employee wellbeing as well as productivity.”
Dr. Wright believes that employees can also help their employees’ stress levels by providing health lunches. Nearly half (45 per cent) of employers offer food in the workplace but 38 per cent only offer unhealthy options.
Employers’ stress levels
Many employers might not have time to take healthy lunches themselves – setting a poor example to their workers. Recent research from Bibby Financial Services found that more than half of all business owners have to work during their summer holidays, with 42 per cent saying they have to work considerable extra hours just to find time to take a holiday.
Earlier last month (August 2011), the European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology recommended that establishing steering groups formed by employers and employees is a vital way of combatting stress.
These steering groups could discuss measures to reduce stress – such as ensuring that all workers get a chance to have adequate lunch breaks.