Working through lunch breaks has become commonplace amongst many employees. New research in the Journal of Psychology and Health has found that many employees feel guilty about taking a break at work during the day, especially for lunch.
Mike Oliver, the paper’s lead author explains that the legal minimum for a lunch break is twenty minutes. However, there is a growing trend for people to not take any breaks at work. The surveys done for the study found that between 66 and 82% of people don’t always take their allotted lunch breaks.
The question arises as to how there has come a point where people feel guilty about taking their legally allowable break. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an interesting time in history has cropped up to assess how people’s behaviours may or may not change when they’re not in a traditional office setting.
Work from Home
With many employees now working from home, one would think that people would be taking more breaks, and the problem of lunch would be less of an issue. However, the opposite was true, according to the research. Oliver’s finding suggests that when trying to ensure people take breaks, it’s best to do so with colleagues, or to be encouraged to take them by your boss. With no colleagues or bosses in any physical proximity, some people may find it harder to act on social prompts.
5 key themes were identified through the research:
1. People’s behaviours are dependent on a variety of factors, and the question of whether people do or do not take breaks isn’t black and white
2. The influence of social and work relationships is important – if your colleagues take breaks then you are more likely to do so and vice versa
3. When someone is busy, when faced with the choice of taking a break or not, work always ‘wins’
4. Lots of people feel anxious or guilty for wanting to take breaks, although some people simply just do not take them
5. Being ‘fair game’ for work-related matters if you’re at your desk at all times.
Mike, who has a doctorate in Health Psychology from Staffordshire University, said that the paper highlights the complex relationship that people have with taking breaks, with colleagues, as well as with their physical environment.
Some participants could see the importance of taking breaks, while others appeared to convince themselves that less strenuous work activity like answering emails while eating lunch at their desks constituted a break.
People appear to be placing greater importance on their work than they do on giving themselves breaks, and this kind of pressure from work may explain a lot of the behaviour seen in the study.
Oliver recommends that further research surrounding organizational change be done to support workplace health and wellbeing. There is a negative health effect, both mental and physical, and so people must stop putting work ahead of their breaks for their own psychological and physical wellbeing.