Some people think that rest is a weakness and feel the endless need to work and be perfect at doing it. Some consider themselves martyrs at work and make fun of other employees who take time off amid their busy schedules. New research from a team of health psychologists at Staffordshire University explores why many employees feel guilty about taking their legally entitled breaks.
Why employees feel guilty about taking a break
The legally-required minimum time for a lunch break at work is 20 minutes. Yet, there has been a growing trend for a large number of employees who do not take breaks. Surveys report that between 66% to 82% of employees do not always take their breaks. Lead author Dr. Mike Oliver said via Manufacturing Business Technology that they were curious to look at the social and psychological behaviors of office workers to understand the barriers and enablers. As many workers are now working at home because of the Covid-19 social distancing measures, Dr. Oliver said that many workers may find it even harder to take their breaks.
Lunch break habits in five key themes
He said that one of the best ways to ensure that employees take their breaks is to take up the matter with their colleagues or their boss. Even if these people are not physically near them, they may still find it harder to act on social prompts. Five main themes were identified in the study. The first is that people’s behaviors at work depend on several factors and is not as simple as having those who don’t take breaks and those who do. The second theme is about the influence of work and social relationships. If colleagues take breaks, then the workers are also more likely to take a break themselves and vice versa.
Third, work “wins” when an employee has to choose between continue working and taking a break when they are really busy. The fourth key element is contradictory feelings. Many employees feel guilty and anxious about taking their breaks although some don’t. The last one is being “fair game” for matters that are work-related if the employee remains at their desk during their break time.
Dr. Oliver went on to say that their findings emphasize the complex relationships that individuals have within terms of taking their legally entitled breaks. Some study participants do not even recognize the value of taking breaks in the middle of the workday and some are convinced that it is already considered taking a break if they are doing an activity that requires less work, like responding to emails while eating their lunch at their office desk.
Importance of the study
The paper, which appeared in Taylor & Francis Online, suggests that the complex relationships that employees have when taking breaks with their physical environments and others should be taken into consideration when understanding the break-taking behavior of people. The team also suggested that organizational changes and potential health-related policies be made.
Worldwide lunchbreak survey
In a 2019 worldwide lunchbreak survey by time tracker app TSheets, it was found that the average lunch break duration is 35 minutes. Four out of six countries with the longest lunch break average are found in Asia and the average lunch break from 10 countries in the EU is 33 minutes, which is three minutes shorter than the average 36 minutes lunch break in the US.
Countries with the longest average lunch break include Brazil (48 minutes), Malaysia (47 minutes), Japan (46 minutes), Portugal (44 minutes), Sweden (38 minutes) US (36 minutes), Russia (35 minutes), Canada (34 minutes), and India (31 minutes).
In the US alone, 58% of employees take 30-minute lunchbreaks, 25% take 60-minute lunchbreaks, 12% take 15-minute lunchbreaks, and 3% have no lunch break. When asked why they were not taking lunch breaks, 74% of employees said they have too much work to do or are short-handed or they use their lunch break to catch up on their emails. Some 16% said they skipped lunch so they could finish their workday sooner, 20% said they don’t take their breaks because they feel guilty doing so, 7% said they want to impress their boss, and 4% said they feel peer-pressured. Forty-three percent of the US employees enjoyed their paid lunch break, 44% did not have paid lunch break, and 13% of employees said only some lunch breaks are paid.
Only 31% of US workers said they prefer their lunch break to be longer and 10% wish they didn’t have to take one. When asked what they would do if they had a longer lunch break, 18% said they would exercise, 29% would run errands, 21% would go out for lunch, and 15% would check on their pets. Furthermore, 61% rated their lunch as healthy and 39% spent between US$5 and $10 on lunch.
The link between lunch break and employee engagement
Alan Kohll, founder and president of national corporate health and wellness service provider TotalWellness, explained that regular breaks help improve the employees' overall job satisfaction. He cited a statistic among North American workers. Nearly 20% of them worry that their boss won’t think of them as hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks or that their coworkers will judge them. He finds it a shame because regular breaks do create better employees. It makes them feel refreshed to get back to work.
Taking breaks may sound counterintuitive but it does boost the employees’ productivity as they gain energy and focus on stepping away from their desks. It also improves their mental well-being. After all, stress has become common in the workplace but has detrimental effects on their health. Enjoying a healthy lunch or going for a quick walk during lunch break helps release the stress and improve their well-being.
An important aspect of a healthy work environment is maintaining a work-life balance that helps prevent burnout and reduce stress in the workplace. Taking a lunch break is an important part of the day even at work as it allows the mind to rest, refocus, and recharge. As a result, it can directly improve the productivity of an employee for the rest of the day.