Lunch at the Desk – DONT DO IT!

Here at The Sangha House, Taunton, we have people through our doors from all walks of life. When we established our timetable, one of our aims was to provide a timetable built around people’s busy lives, to give them lots of flexibility. Therefore, we concentrated on places where people would (or should) take their breaks. i.e. start of day, lunch time and end of day. This has certainly helped a great many people, but we are seeing a clear trend at lunch times and it prompted us to dig a little deeper and look in to some research in this area.

Essentially, what we find is that pressure at work is stopping over half of us from regularly leaving the office at lunchtime. A survey commissioned by the National Charity Partnership has found that 52% of workers said they never leave their office for lunch; one in four (24%) say they regularly work through their break; and 46% use the time to browse online.

The reasons for this are many and varies but the resounding reasons for this behaviour are these

  1. heavy workloads (32%)
  2. workplace culture (14%)
  3. stress (13%)

Ironically, being self-disciplined about taking our breaks would actually help with dealing with these 3 factors.

It is extremely clear to all of us in this day and age about the risks of low rates of physical activity and the dangers of sitting too long. The health risks creep up on us slowly, so we don’t see them coming. But they are definitely there. Eating lunch at your desk means you’ll stay seated longer, and sitting for long periods of time can make you sick in more ways than one. Sitting for hours on end can cause increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It can also shift your pancreas into overdrive – causing diabetes and other diseases since sedentary muscles don’t react well to insulin. In other words, if you don’t leave your desk to eat lunch, you could be taking a whole lot more time off from work in the long run.

From an employer’s perspective, the news isn’t great either. Work-related stress accounted for almost 10 million lost working days in 2014-15 according to Jenna Hall, programme director for the National Charity Partnership. “Managers and staff have a joint responsibility to ensure regular breaks are taken during the working day. Employers should promote a workplace culture where staff feel able to take breaks.” Now that is an incredibly high number. That amounts to approximately 28,000 people off sick, at all levels in companies, every day, through stress. This equates to a great deal of money in terms of lost productivity, health care costs, emergency support staff and wage costs. Approximately £2.5M every day being lost due to stress and anxiety.  Employers are fooling themselves if they don’t believe they need to act on this.

I believe one of the toughest things to break is the culture. Yes, people are reporting that heavy-workload is the reason for taking lunch at their desks. But if the office culture was encouraging people to take their breaks at lunch time, people simply would follow the culture. Despite the workload, they would take their breaks. Culture is a phenomenally powerful driver in an organisation and we should not underestimate its affect on the way our staff behave. Employers therefore have a massive responsibility here, to develop a clear culture which encourages people to take their breaks properly. This has got to be done through direct, visible action. The managers have to be visibly taking their breaks. The important word here is VISIBLE. One of the best examples of this, I have seen is a Yoga teacher who also was a senior manager in an engineering firm. She was horrified by the long hours her staff were keeping. She had inherited a culture that she wasn’t at all happy with. So at 5.30 each day, she would get up from her desk and at the top of her voice, wish her staff a pleasant evening and announce that she was off to Yoga or off out with friends etc. Slowly, the whole office started to change. Managers must take a leaf out of her book and change the culture, for the sake of the health of their staff and themselves!

At the Sangha House, we encourage people to enjoy a physical activity. Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates are ideal for taking a break. Even meditation, although not physical, has been proven to reduce stress and gain a balanced, focussed perspective. However, just getting out for a walk and a change of scenery helps immensely. Stroll in to town, let go of work for 30 minutes or so. Enjoy the fresh air!