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‘It’s seen as a weakness’: Why 1 in 3 Aussies don’t take a lunch break

·3-min read
Someone eating lunch at a computer
If you are someone who regularly struggles to find time for a lunch break, chances are you really need one. (Source: Getty)

As many as one in three Australians don’t take the lunch break they are entitled to, according to a new SEEK study.

When quizzed, 26 per cent of employees claimed they did not take their lunch break because they had too much to do.

Another 13 per cent said they had no break facilities at their workplace, and 4 per cent said they felt guilty about taking a break.

SEEK’s resident psychologist, Sabina Read, said self-imposed guilt was actually one of the key underlying reasons people worked through their lunch breaks.

People tended to believe they were “letting someone down” by taking a break, Read said.

“It’s a false belief that I think a lot of us have.”

That’s despite a substantial body of evidence suggesting breaks lead to higher productivity, creativity and collaboration between peers.

Breaks also substantially reduce stress, which is important for mental and physical well-being, Read said.

Read also said workplace cultures could rob workers of a lunch break.

“It’s seen as laziness. It’s seen as a weakness,” she said.

“Taking a break means I’m not robust enough to push on through.”

She said if peers or leaders did not take lunch breaks, others inferred it was not encouraged.

“It's not normalised, and so you don't want to be the odd one out who is stopping to take a break or stopping to eat,” Read said.

Leaders and managers could set a good example by taking a break in the middle of the day, she said, which would invite others to follow suit.

Read said another way to encourage better habits was avoiding meetings in the middle of the day, however, she was mindful of not being too prescriptive about when and how long people should switch off.

How people spend their lunch breaks

Despite leaders often failing to set a good example by taking a break, those who did were significantly more likely to nap to recoup.

Scrolling social media was another common lunch break activity, with 48 per cent of people spending their down time on Instagram and other social media.

Around 34 per cent took a walk, and 23 per cent would call friends and family. Around 22 per cent spent some time stretching.

Read offered a couple of tips for squeezing as much value as possible out of a lunch break:

  • Eat - If you don’t eat, your productivity levels or quality of work dips.

  • Network - Take a colleague out, attend a local networking lunch, or plan a lunch meeting to maximise your personal and professional engagement during your break. Being around other people makes us happy, improves our physical well-being, and boosts our mental performance.

  • Go work-free - Leave work behind, ditch your phone and take a real break from your job. It’ll help you rest and refresh your brain for the afternoon. It will make you stay focused and spark creative ideas.

  • Exercise - Exercising will boost your energy. If you can’t hit the gym, a gentle stroll outside your office can send your afternoon productivity skyrocketing.

  • Run an errand - Lunch breaks are a great opportunity to check off small errands so that you can have more free time after work. It will take your mind off work, and you’ll come back to your desk energised and organised.

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