How to reclaim your lunch break

Too busy to take a lunch break? You’re not alone.

New research found that almost three-quarters (73%) of office workers in the UK never manage to take a full 60-minute lunch break, with the average worker spending around 29 minutes away from their desk at dinner time. 

Remote workers don’t fare much better, with a quarter of workers admitting working from shortened their lunch breaks even more compared to before the pandemic. 

In fact, some 26% of workers said they never down tools or ignore emails during their lunch, opting to dine al-desko.

But why is this? 

It’s not that workers don’t value their lunch break, with 57% of office workers saying time away from their desk is beneficial to their mental health and half (49%) admitting that having a proper lunch break helps them feel more motivated about their job, so what gives?

According to the survey, by Branston Pickle, the main reasons are a lack of time (35%), fear of missing important emails (25%), being interrupted by work calls and emails (38%) and pressure from management (21%), with 17% of respondents reporting that their boss has criticised them for taking a proper lunch break that removes them from their desks and phones.

Lunch breaks are clearly important: the law in the UK states that anyone working for more than over six hours is legally required to be offered a 20-minute break.

They’re also vital in terms of both mental wellbeing of employees, and productivity. 

‘It’s been proven time and time again that those who are able to physically get away from their workspace, turn their screen off, put their phones away and get fresh air are able to return to work with a renewed energy and a sharper mindset,’ life coach Hattie MacAndrews tells Metro.co.uk.

Not to mention, workers are rarely paid for their lunch breaks – so you might as well take yours.

How to reclaim your lunch break

The research showed that the average worker feels that a 40-minute lunch break would be extremely beneficial for them.

If you’ve found yourself unable – or unwilling –to prioritise your lunch break, now is the time to start. 

Get organised

If you struggle to find the time to take a lunch break, it might be a good idea to schedule it into your day along with other tasks. 

‘In a world where it feels like our every move is pre-planned and scheduled, our lunch break should be no different,’ says Hattie. 

‘Blocking out the time in advance will allow you to organise the rest of your day, work calls and meetings around your lunch break – enabling you to stick to your plan.

‘You could try doing this at the end of your working week, so it’s one less thing to worry about come Monday morning.’

Find something to do

Spending your lunch break sitting mere metres away from your desktop is likely to be pointless if you have nothing better to do than check your emails. 

Make your lunch break feel more ‘worth it’ by having something to look forward to. 

‘Whether it be making a delicious lunch, doing that overdue laundry or cracking out some downward facing dogs – having some idea of what you would like to achieve will set you up for success,’ says Hattie.

‘This means putting some time and thought into your break, whether that be making sure you have all the ingredients for your cheese and pickle sarnie or booking your gym class in advance.’

Hattie advises doing something that will make you feel happy.

‘Try using your lunch break to get that dopamine soaring and endorphins flowing,’ she adds.

‘Do something that makes you feel really really good, whether that’s a Zumba class or organising a drawer in your kitchen.

‘You’ll be doing yourself a favour when you return to your desk feeling refreshed, replenished and ready for the afternoon.’

Switch off

It can be hard to take a real break from work, especially when you’re at the whims of your electronic devices. 

Hattie suggests using your lunch break to take a proper break from technology, including Netflix. 

‘Screen fatigue is real, it’s draining and it’s not doing you or your health any favours,’ she tells us. 

‘Even just 30 minutes away from a screen can make a world of difference.’

Try putting your phone on aeroplane mode or reading a book instead of scrolling on TikTok or reading articles online. 

Have a change of scenery

‘We are humans, not robots,’ says MacAndrews.

‘We are not designed to sit in the same place hour after hour, day after day.’

Take your lunch outside during your break in an attempt to get some fresh air and sunlight, or at least move to another area to give your brain a refresh.

‘You could also try meeting a friend for lunch or calling your mum on a walk,’ suggests MacAndrews.

‘That extra level of commitment should encourage you to get up and out.’

Muscle memory

If you’re worried about wasting a full hour being ‘unproductive,’ why not use your lunch break to give your brain a workout? 

‘Try an activity that challenges the opposite side of your brain,’ says MacAndrews. 

‘For example, if you are creative and work in a creative role – why not try a puzzle or sudoku to keep your mind occupied.

‘And vice versa, an analytical thinker could try doing something creative for a change. 

‘This will help keep you stimulated and keep boredom at bay.’

Communication is key

‘If you’re concerned that you will miss something important or are feeling guilty about not being able to reply to emails instantly, let those around you know that you are on your lunch break and will respond when you return,’ says MacAndrews. 

Let your boss know where you’ll be, and put an out of office alert on your emails so that people know you’re not ignoring them.

‘If anything, you will garner more respect for putting your needs first and prioritising your wellbeing,’ MacAndrews adds.

Set your Boundaries

Finally, remember your rights and make sure you set boundaries with your boss, colleagues and anyone else who may be concerned. 

It’s just as important to set those boundaries with yourself, too.

‘When we’re in the thick of it, it can feel like our world will collapse if we don’t respond to a message instantly, or that the whole world is waiting for that one last piece of work,’ Hattie notes. 

‘Try to look at your day logically, knowing that there is only so much you can achieve in any given day. 

‘Taking your break will allow you to rest your mind, fuel your body and return feeling like you can take on anything that’s thrown at you.’

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