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Is lunch in the workplace taking a break?

It is always 12.30 pm somewhere in the world. Every second, lunch breaks at work are starting. But over the last decade, they have become increasingly shorter, been skipped, or spent in front of a screen.

It is indisputable that the time devoted to the famous lunch break is evaporating as the years go by, all around the world. Lasting 35 minutes on average globally, its length varies from country to country: in Greece, it is allocated 19 paltry minutes, while Japan still enjoys a generous 45 minutes.

At a time when the boundaries between our professional and personal lives seem increasingly blurred, and when sport and eating habits are central to our concerns, how can this special moment be rehabilitated, and employees take ownership of it once again?

The lunch break, an opportunity for a breather

A break from stress and screens. Better quality sleep, increased productivity, improved stress management, reduced feelings of fatigue or even exhaustion… Many international studies* have shown that there is a long list of benefits to be gained from a real break in the middle of the day. According to a study by The Guardian, adults require a 75-minute break to allow them to continue their day at 100% of their capacity.

While the break and its length are important, its content is equally so. An hour’s lunch break devoted to playing Candy Crush would cancel out any potential benefit.

While lunch breaks are usually destined for eating, it can take many other forms: bonding with colleagues (see our article on connecting through sharing meals), culinary discoveries, or simply a moment of relaxation during the day.

The lunch break: not just for eating

 Its name does not reflect the fact that the lunch break at work is now increasingly devoted to other activities. Taking a nap, doing personal jobs, meditating or practising sport are all increasingly popular choices.

With an average gain in productivity of 15% to 20% for each employee engaging in physical activity at lunchtime, large businesses have not been slow to take this information on board. Following the example of Pepsi, Google and HBO, a growing number of businesses are making sports facilities and personalised sports programmes available to their staff thanks to platforms such as Andjoy.

Although it can be a good thing to devote this break to doing something other than eating, there are nonetheless some traps to avoid:

  • It would appear that in France and the United Kingdom, 16% of employees spend their lunch breaks making headway with work, without having any real intermission during their day.
  • In Western Europe, nearly 30% of employees* are thought to spend a large portion of their lunch break on social media, even when having a meal with colleagues.
  • In Brazil, 56% of employees take a lunch break that exceeds 1 hour 10 minutes, even if it means finishing work later and impinging on their private lives.

Although many obstacles to an ideal lunch break remain, it is down to companies to ensure that this essential moment in their employees’ daily routines is preserved, in particular by providing resources for their staff. 

Saving time: the secret to the successful lunch break

 Time, which cannot be condensed, is the single biggest thing all employees chase after at work. Those 35 brief minutes that the planet devotes, on average, to the lunch break are no exception to the rule: every single second counts, and avoiding going out, making detours or queuing becomes a precious way to save time. Many operators in FoodTech and corporate food services have drawn on this assessment to develop new offers.

Saving time…on going out

Key operators in the home meal delivery sector, Deliveroo, Uber Eats and their ilk have now set their sights on conquering meals in the workplace. Combining a varied offer with a user-friendly ordering experience, these services promise speedy and efficient delivery. This is sure to incite even those who are in a hurry to have something to eat.

But these food delivery heavyweights are now facing the emergence of a new form of competition, which in addition to delivery, is making the nutritional quality of the food on offer its stock-in-trade.

Saving time…and eating well

Employees are no longer satisfied with pizzas or sushi boxes delivered in under 10 minutes to the reception desk at their office. They are attentive to their diet and they want to eat fast, but well. Although ‘healthy’ options from the sector’s key operators are fairly limited, new arrivals like FoodChéri are making their mark by capitalising on a ‘100% home-made’, ‘fresh’ and ‘balanced’ offering.

 Saving time…and gaining flexibility

Lastly, there are those who have learnt their lesson (very) well: businesses that aim to provide their staff with efficient and personalised tools. Innovative applications like MySodexo track the employee’s rhythm and suggest, according to their wishes, meal deliveries or geolocated restaurants or shops that suit their preferences and dietary requirements.

The lunch break is therefore a key health and well-being consideration for companies and their employees. A special moment conducive to relaxation, to new experiences and to fostering connections and team spirit amongst employees, it is also a powerful lever for building staff loyalty within a company. Even more than this, it boosts performance. When employees observe their break, it enables them to continue the rest of the day at the top of their capabilities.

The lunch break is a key element of any ‘employee experience’ strategy. This is why integrating it, encouraging it and ensuring that it is observed must become a priority for all types of organisation, from local SMEs to large international groups.

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