Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Trouble With...Lunch Hours nobody appears to take them anymore. I know, it's hardly news - people stopped leaving their desks to have lunch sometime around 1993, but it never ceases to amaze me that not having a lunch hour is A Thing. As the big return to work gets underway this week, I've been reminded how totally unnatural is it for humans to sit in front of screens for 8 hours a day. There's nothing like the Christmas holidays - a time for complete surrender to lack of routine and a life-enhancing break from the tyranny of desk-bound employ - to ram the point home: sitting in front of screens for long periods is bad for your back, your eyes and your general sense of wellbeing. 

So why do more and more of us feel bad about taking a full hour in the middle of our working day to do things that are essential for our personal wellbeing and professional productivity? What's the big deal about enjoying your lunch at a reasonable rate of mastication and perhaps taking a stroll outside before returning to the afternoon's endeavours? 

When I first started working back in the mid 90s, we were pretty much forced to take a lunch break. At 1pm on the dot, everyone downed tools and one of my more elderly colleagues wandered through the office informing us it was 'synching time' - we literally had to 'rest' our computers while things 'synched'...I'm still not sure what this really meant, but I'm grateful that my first experience of work was embedded in pre-noughties technology and a culture that didn't yet follow the American model of 24/7 working where taking lunch is 'for wimps'. Those halcyon days were filled with conscientious working during office hours (we didn't have social media and mobile phones to distract us back then) and fun lunch breaks spent in the park or down by the river in Twickenham. 

But then that aforementioned American way of doing work started to creep in and subsequent workplaces I found myself at didn't seem to have a culture where taking a reasonable lunch break was considered good use of time. Strangely, it seems that it's not necessarily the organisations or senior managers that are to blame, but the staff who impose desk-bound activity upon themselves. I'm truly amazed that so many people deny themselves the opportunity to enjoy their lunch away from the glare of the computer, have a blast of fresh air or simply get a few tasks ticked off their personal to do list. Are there really that many people with that much work to do each and every day that taking a break for an hour just isn't a possibility? 

I think it's interesting that many parents bemoan the time their children spend in front of screens yet we don't apply the same rules to ourselves. Of course, our children's screen use is (usually)conducted during their leisure time; working in front of screens is a necessary part of working life and I'm not denigrating those people with stressful jobs that really do have to put in the hours at their desks. 

But the point remains the same - it's good to take a break from screen time whenever we can. Don't be a martyr if you really don't need to - take a walk outside in the sun, for Chrissakes! I truly believe most working people can allow themselves a full 60 minutes away from the computer more often than not during their working week. 

So, as a new working year commences and the office air is charged with possibility and the whiff of new stationery, I believe we should all be resolving to keep ourselves refreshed and recharged with daily (wherever possible - deadlines and other stressy stuff permitting) breaks each lunchtime. If you're feeling really brave, you could even - whisper it - leave your phone at your desk too...

PS: this rather pertinent article popped up in my Twitter feed as I was writing this piece - take a look and heed its warning:

"Studies have suggested that those who overwork themselves are more prone to myriad health issues that include mental illness, which ought to force us to question our system of values. 

At the end of the Pew report, the authors warn that in 2020 "People will not take the time to enjoy nurture or nature." Welcome to the future..."


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