Given that the term “lunch hour” is often used synonymously with “lunch break”, I’d like to think that it’s roughly the amount of time workers take for themselves in the middle of their day, wouldn’t you?

Well, I’d be a fool to be so naïve, according to a recent poll commissioned by the office space broker Workthere. Their survey reached out to 2007 full time workers in the UK; the headline was that their average lunch break lasted a mere 34 minutes. I have to assume these findings are based on self-estimations, so accuracy is hard to verify, but that figure still seems upsettingly low to me.

Other similarly dispiriting statistics include: 52% of the sample claimed they skip lunch at least once a week, and 37% said they rarely leave the office at lunchtime. The results of the poll also suggested a link between these figures and where those people win their bread, i.e. those working in cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester. On the whole, this survey fits with my impression of a lot of high pressure work environments in the UK, that people pile more responsibility upon themselves than is necessary to keep up.

So, what can employers do to avoid their workers running themselves into the ground? Another figure quoted was that 32% of the sample were eager for quieter spaces to be planned into their office, with a similar number believing that access to outdoor areas would boost their productivity. I fully agree that more emphasis should be placed on coaxing people away from their desks during their breaks, as it allows them time to actually relax. Too many modern adults spend their down time in the office in the company of email notifications and a ringing phone, rather than socialising, reading, or whatever it is that keeps them sane.

All of these factors form just part of the reason that chronic stress is one of the most common causes of absenteeism in the UK; we are currently drowning in evidence that overworking employees has the opposite effect on productivity that (I assume) is intended. Plenty of companies are doing something about it already, let’s hope the rest catch up soon!

Michael Baker

Click here for the Workthere article