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Survey finds 82% of workers skip lunch breaks because they feel completing work is more important

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Do YOU feel guilty about taking a lunch break? Survey finds 82% of employees skip the downtime because they feel completing work is more important

  • A study surveyed a group of employees on their lunch break behaviors
  • The results show that as many as 82% of of workers are not taking advantage 
  • The team found five key themes, including feeling guilt about taking break 
  • Others were their colleagues weren’t taking a break so they also skip theirs
  • Some felt sitting at their desk doing menial tasks counts as a full lunch break
  • Experts suggest a person of authority encourages staff to take a lunch break 

If you skip your lunch break out of guilt, you are not alone – 82% of workers are also opting out of the downtime.

A survey reveals that people are choosing to complete their work over the time they give themselves for breaks. 

Other factors found in the survey included contradictory feelings anxiety and being ‘fair game’ for work related matters if you remain at your desk at break times.

The team suggests breaks are sure to be taken when spent with colleagues or encouraged by a person of authority.

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A survey reveals that people are choosing to complete their work over the time they give themselves for breaks. Other factors found in the survey included contradictory feelings anxiety and being'fair game' for work related matters if you remain at your desk at break times

A survey reveals that people are choosing to complete their work over the time they give themselves for breaks. Other factors found in the survey included contradictory feelings anxiety and being ‘fair game’ for work related matters if you remain at your desk at break times

The survey was conducted by health psychologists at Staffordshire University, who held five focus groups with 27 employees of different levels of seniority – all of which were asked to complete a questionnaire about their lunch break habits.

The paper’s lead author Dr. Mike Oliver explained: ‘The legally required minimum time for a lunch break at work is 20 minutes, however there is a growing trend nationally for large numbers of people not to take breaks at work, with surveys reporting that between 66% and 82% of workers don’t always take their breaks.’

‘So, how have we got to the point where some people feel guilty about taking their legally allowable break? We were curious to look at the psychological and social behaviors of office workers to understand the enablers and barriers.’

Following the survey, the result showed five key themes: the non-binary nature of taking breaks at work, the influence of social and work relationships, the superordination of work over breaks and health, contradictory feelings of guilt and anxiety and being ‘fair game’ for work related matters if you remain at your desk at break times. 

The team suggests breaks are sure to be taken when spent with colleagues or encouraged by a person of authority

The team suggests breaks are sure to be taken when spent with colleagues or encouraged by a person of authority

‘This paper highlights the complex relationships that people have with taking breaks, with others and with their physical environment, said Oliver.

‘Some participants did recognize the importance of taking a break in the middle of the day, but others appeared to convince themselves that by doing a less intense work activity, such as responding to emails, whilst eating their lunch at their desk, would actually be taking a break.’

‘The greater importance that people appear to be placing on completing their work over the time they give themselves for breaks, or simply the sheer volume and pressure of work, may go some way to explaining this pattern of behavior.’

A separate study, conducted in 2016, uncovered that 20 percent of employees eat at their desk and 13 percent ‘seldom or never take time for lunch at all.

Health psychologists held five focus groups with 27 employees of different levels of seniority – all of which were asked to complete a questionnaire about their lunch break habits - and many choose to eat at their desk

Health psychologists held five focus groups with 27 employees of different levels of seniority – all of which were asked to complete a questionnaire about their lunch break habits – and many choose to eat at their desk 

Susan Randolph with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of the study shared: ‘Employees who take breaks are more productive and creative. Breaks keep workers focused and engaged in their work which enables them to complete their tasks more accurately with fewer errors.’

‘Breaks can also reduce stress. A stressful issue at work can contribute to negative behaviors such as irritability. Skipping lunch frequently can cause stress and fatigue. By taking a break away from the issue or having lunch or a snack, employees return re-energized and able to tackle the next task.’

Along with improving production, Randolph also notes that breaks can decrease physical issues, as moving around helps individuals stretch and relieves eye strain.

‘A more traditional approach to breaks is to plan two 15-minute breaks per day, one mid-morning and the other midafternoon. It is important not to miss the mid-afternoon break as 3 p.m. is considered the least productive time of day,’ she added.

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