Less than one third of British workers have lunch away from their desks. With 45% of lost working days being attributed to work-related stress, our Environmental Health & Safety advisor, Laura Harthill, explains why it might be a good idea to take yourself somewhere else for your lunch break.

By law, employees must be given at least a 20-minute break for every six or more-hour shift, but most employers actually give longer. Even so, many workers do not take advantage of designated lunch breaks. Consequently, they not only fail to reap the potential health benefits, but could be putting themselves under unnecessary stress.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and stress are the most common causes of absences from work. Stretching the legs, fresh air, generally escaping the office environment and easing your mind from its pressures can all help. As regular movement is recommended to combat MSDs, you can look after your physical health while you relax mentally. You're then in a better position to refocus for the afternoon’s tasks.

But the health benefits go beyond MSDs and stress. Today’s prevalence of sedentary jobs has led to an increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes; fitting in an extra bit of exercise at lunch time could easily help to prevent them.

Lunch breaks give employees the opportunity to refuel and refocus – ultimately allowing them to be more productive in the afternoon. So, for those who think that working through lunch helps them get more done, having a break from work can be even more beneficial. 

It gives the opportunity to get some things done for yourself – pay some bills, pick up that birthday card that you keep forgetting or run some other errands – all of which give you more time in the evening to relax and recharge for the following day. This time is vital for ensuring proper nutrition and getting a bit of exercise. It’s hard to fit everything into our days as it is, so why do we sacrifice the spare time that is rightfully ours?

A recent survey found that taking a proper lunch break made employees feel happier and more positive.

Employers should encourage staff to take the lunch breaks they are entitled to. After all, a healthier workforce will not only have fewer absences, but will also be more productive when they are in work.

Employers should:

  • Provide a suitable, designated space that encourages employees to take breaks away from their desks
  • Encourage a culture of healthy eating to accompany a healthier attitude to taking break
  • Encourage breaks away from screens and phones.  A break really should be a break
  • Allow employees to take an extra break for some fresh air if needed, some days are just stressful –  ensure they know that their lunch break will not be affected.