UK Workers and Lunch: What Did You Do for Lunch Today?

We take a closer, statistically filled look at what UK employees who are entitled to a lunch break do during their allocated time including the good, the bad and the shocking

Well, it’s official – the UK really does have a long working hour’s culture.  Recent reports reveal that approximately 4 million UK employees now work more than 48 hours per week.  Full-time workers in the UK, on average, are working around 37 hours per week and with the statutory minimum rest break at 20 uninterrupted minutes when working over 6 hours per day, 37% get 30 minutes or less and 42% receive 1 hour or more.

Workers over 18 are usually entitled to 3 types of break – rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest

Although the amount of break time allocated to employees across the UK varies, 82% have stated that they believe their lunch break is sufficient for them, but we want to know how British workers are choosing to spend (or want to spend) their much deserved lunch break, so we decided to find out.

1#. Work through

Not the most exciting kind of lunch break.  67% of UK office workers claim to work through their lunch at least one day per week.  38% work through due to the pressures of having too much work and 10% cite that they feel expected to do so by their employer, which is a real concern when it is a legal entitlement that should be honoured.

Brits are only taking 27 minute lunch breaks and it’s costing us loads of money

With 56% of employees failing to take the full allotted time for their lunch break due reasons such as cultural pressures in the workplace, 65% of workers say they are actively encouraged by their employer to take a proper break, which is something all organisations should be promoting for the benefits towards employee morale and productivity, especially in some of the more monotonous roles which can even become a health and safety risk when breaks are not taken.

Many employees expressed that they feel they need to work through their lunch break to actually get their work completed in time, but there are also those workers who have no place to escape to and by sitting at their desk to eat lunch can mean they are still ‘present’ to take calls, check emails or even have people drop by to their desk to discuss work related matters.

I’m sure it is not just myself that has heard the line, ‘Sorry, I know you are on your lunch but could you just…’ time and time again.

“Those working in HR are most guilty of skipping their lunch break (70%), followed by Finance (68%) and employees within the Arts and Culture sector (62%), the research shows.”

– Sophie Christie, The Telegraph

Also, it was recently discovered that the average UK worker completes the equivalent of £33,264.00 worth of work during their lunch breaks over the course of their career, which is quite a shocking figure considering it’s 1.6 times the average UK annual salary and hard earned cash that you’re never going to get back.

The average UK worker completes the equivalent of £33,264.00 worth of work during their lunch breaks

But by working through lunch and not getting a complete break we wonder how this impacts on the work-life balance and the effect on an employee’s mental health in the longer term.  That’s something that employers need to think more about and thankfully ACAS offer guidance and advice on working hours and rest breaks, alongside practical training on the surrounding issues of workplace stress and employee wellbeing.

2#. Check social media

99% of the young UK population are using some form of social media every week and with its addictive appeal it has become a huge part of people’s everyday lives, so it is no surprise that 41.1% of employees turn to checking their social media during their lunch breaks.  34% use social media to take a mental break from their workload but 40% are taking it beyond the realms of their allocated lunch time and misusing social media intermittently throughout their working day which of course comes at a cost to their employer.

Nearly everyone in the UK between the ages of 16 and 24 uses social media on a weekly basis
Nearly everyone in the UK between the ages of 16 and 24 uses social media on a weekly basis

On average, a cost of £2,592.60 per employee per year is lost using social media that seeps outside of set rest breaks and if we multiply this figure by the 30,645,000 employees in the UK then it comes to an annual cost of nearly £80 billion wasted on the effects of social media in the workplace.  The impact on lost productivity is even more at 8.13% which totals nearly £186 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) lost every year across the UK.

“To expect someone to maintain focus for eight hours straight is unreasonable.  People need a break and, in today’s world, that break includes social media access.”

Suzana Flores, Author of ‘Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives.’

Therefore, it would be wise for organisations to implement a strong Social Media Policy that ensures social media use in the workplace is limited to break times only.

3#. Apply for other jobs

Shockingly, 40% of employees use their lunch breaks to seek and even apply for other roles.  Employees having a bad day at work, feeling unsatisfied or disengaged in their job reportedly use their lunch time to find new opportunities, update their CV’s and even take telephone interviews!

Back in June 2011, Monster conducted a study that highlighted:

Aside from questioning your loyalty to your employer, being caught looking for other jobs can create tensions within working relationships.  As long as you are job hunting solely within your own break time and not breaching any workplace policies in the process, you cannot generally be disciplined or dismissed for doing so, but if your job performance suffers because your attentions are elsewhere, it could result in you being disciplined on capability grounds.

Looking for another job while already holding a position can be tricky, but if you’re clever about it you can minimise disruption

Employers should, in the first instance, address the reasoning behind the employee wanting to jump ship and look at ways for re-engagement, which could include some fun lunchtime activities (just an idea!)

However, if you are set on leaving, keeping a good relationship with your ex-employer is always a good idea – so applying for alternative positions whilst at work may not be.

4#. Attend to personal matters

With employees in the UK working such hectic schedules, lunch breaks are sometimes the only opportunity that employees get to complete daily necessary or administrative personal chores.

Being one of the 4 million working 48 hours per week would leave precious little time to spend with family which is why employees choose to use their lunchtime to get personal admin tasks done.

It was revealed that 82% of us spend 25 minutes (on average) sorting through our personal tasks during work hours which include the following most common tasks:

  1. Visit doctors – 47%
  2. Organise finances – 47%
  3. Booking appointments – 43%
  4. Organising utilities and paying other bills – 40%
  5. Online shopping – 17%

But there are work related risks to completing ‘life admin’ whilst at work, especially if you are using work facilities such as the computers, internet and even printers.

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) legislation effective from 25th May 2018 will create an issue when employees conduct any of the above tasks in the workplace, as any personal data input into a Company’s system will instantly make the employer accountable for any data breaches that occur due to said employee data stored, whether the company is aware of it or not.

Two out of three employees seek more relaxation

Penalties for non-compliance are heavily steep, so organisations need to be starting preparations now for successful risk management later on and a ban on ‘life admin’ at work even during employees own lunch time might have to be an option.

5#. Just simply eat and relax

65% of employees interviewed by Viking said they wanted a more relaxing lunch break with just over half (52%) saying they would be happy to be left alone to eat in peace.

However, UK employees maybe need to re-think their food choices as 81% of British workers are said to be bored of their lunch selection with 1 in 6 employees eating the same lunch every day for at least the past 2 years!  And it isn’t surprising that they are bored of their daily pack-up when a typical British office lunch is reported to be a tuna sandwich, microwavable leek and potato soup, maltesers and a coffee (AKA the honourable soup and sandwich).

Companies offering their employees a rest-break that gives adequate time to eat a proper meal whilst encouraging staff to mix up their lunch choices by promoting the benefits of healthier foods consisting of a variety of protein, fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and healthy fats will actually have a positive impact on work and business, thanks to a decrease in irritability and fatigue often brought on in the afternoons from the dreaded ‘sugar crash’.

“People who take the time to eat a distraction-free lunch away from their desks with adequate time are more likely to consume an appropriate amount of food and be more satisfied with their meal. This is associated with less weight gain, leading to lower healthcare costs for the company. People who are allowed a break to eat an appropriate lunch come back to work feeling more energised and motivated in the afternoon.”

Kaleigh McMordie, a registered dietitian nutritionist from Lively Table, gives insights to Viking

Maybe you just don’t know what to do during your lunch breaks?  We think they should be enjoyable and revitalise you for the rest of the working day, so what could you do to make the most of your lunch break in as little as 20 minutes?

  1. Exercise: Get out of the office and take in some fresh air.  Getting out and about for a simple walk is an inexpensive, low risk and an accessible activity which combined with nature in a group setting is a very powerful, underutilised stress buster.
  2. Read: The benefits of reading are endless and include mental stimulation, stress reduction, memory improvement, improved focus and concentration alongside better knowledge, writing skills and tranquillity. 
  3. Learn something new: Taking up a new hobby or course is good for your well-being, confidence and stimulates your brain allowing you to focus on something else rather than work even for a short period of time.
  4. Nap: Also known as the power nap, a quick 10-20 minutes siesta could boost your performance and focus allowing you to get through the afternoon feeling refreshed and clear minded.

To recap, some of the top 5 things employees do during their lunch break include:

  1. Work through
  2. Check social media
  3. Apply for jobs
  4. Attend to personal matters
  5. Eat and relax

We would love to hear what you get up to during your lunch breaks, so please let us know!


Written By

Robyn South

Robyn is a HR professional with over 7 years experience in generalist and complex employee relations matters. A newly established Virtual HR Assistant offering a range of HR services online, who loves to travel and part of the content management team at CakeHR.