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No such thing as a stress-free lunch?

Date posted
12 April 2024
Jeremy Waterfield
Estimated reading time
3 minute read

Just before you tucked into a work-day lunch, last week, we shared some stats on the eating habits of British workers and asked: “Do you regard a lunch break that takes you away from your desk or place of work as being essential to your health and wellbeing?”

We were prompted by an article featured in The Conversation which showed 30 per cent of British workers eat at their desks, while 44 per cent eat alone. The highest rates in Europe, these findings were contrasted with the situation in France, which has a labour regulation that bans workers from eating lunch in the workplace. Bon appétit!

Well, it proved a popular talking point for Stress Awareness Month, a bit of a hot potato you might say; certainly, something for you all to chew over. Pulling in nearly 1,300 votes, the snap poll saw nearly 87 per cent of those who responded vote ‘Yes’.

And you came up with a full menu of comments on the matter.

Getting away from it all – just for a while

“I like to take my lunch break away from my desk, even if it’s a short one. It has to be a proper break to actually rest a bit, and if the weather is good, it’s great to have a little walk outdoors!”

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Not like the old days

For Steve Swygart CMIOSH, the question prompted a bit of a nostalgia trip, comparing the “poor canteen facilities” of today with a previous era of work canteens serving hot meals and weekly social events.

“It’s now like being kept in a hutch and just working non-stop.”

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Joys of working from home

James Brown offered a picture of home-working bliss.

“One of the many benefits of working from home is I am now able to enjoy a healthy, home-cooked meal with my wife at lunchtimes, rather than a sandwich at my desk.”

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It's a cultural thing

Matt Keary, who works in health and safety behavioural management, works with colleagues of different nationalities and says the Brits tend to eat at their desks, not even resting from keyboards to follow their ‘Must work harder’, ‘Must be more productive’ mantra. He contrasts this with workers from other countries (yes, especially the French!) who always make the effort to eat in the kitchen/dining area and have a chat and a catch-up.

Research released last year by Compass Group, a leading food services company, and global market intelligence agency Mintel, showed that the length of time workers spend on their lunch break varies considerably by country. From 54 minutes in China – one of the world’s fastest growing economies - to half-an-hour in the UK (even though 73 per cent of UK workers said that taking a lunch break makes them more productive) and little more than 20 minutes in Poland. As much as 10 per cent of UK workers said they take no breaks at all during their whole working week.

Clear breaks

The IOSH view on lunch breaks is very clear: employees should be encouraged to take them and other regular breaks to maintain their physical and mental health. This means taking some rest and NOT taking work phone calls or emailing for work while enjoying a proper lunch.

“Taking breaks is essential to managing fatigue, preventing burnout and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It may sound counter-intuitive to some but taking regular breaks, including lunch breaks, ultimately enhances workers’ productivity and job satisfaction.”

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Last updated: 19 April 2024

Jeremy Waterfield

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Content Officer


  • Health and wellbeing