The world of work is changing.
We’re calling for a lunch revolution.
What does lunch at work mean for most of us? Grabbing that same Pret sandwich in a fluster or shovelling down leftovers before the next Zoom call. It’s a utility meal that often serves no greater purpose than just staving off hunger pangs, and that’s if we even stop to take it at all.
In the UK, we have a particular problem when it comes to honouring this midday meal. According to recent research conducted by Workthere, UK workers aged 25 to 34 take an average of just 25 minutes for lunch, which, when compared to countries in the EU, means we’re taking the shortest breaks for the longest average working week. We blame workload, productivity pressure and a lack of convenience options, with many of us opting to “power through” instead of giving our bodies the break they need.
We need a lunch culture re-set.
In Britain, our “lunch hour” has been in gradual decline since the 1960s. What used to be a communal break that you weren’t just entitled to but expected to take with colleagues, has been replaced by an ‘al desko’ culture of snacking, skipping or mindlessly nibbling a sandwich over our keyboards. Time that, for some, feels better spent doing some quick online shopping or squeezing in a super quick workout. According to research conducted by Wildgoose, these are habits that have worsened for employees during the pandemic, with boundaries between work and relaxation having further eroded.
When you compare the British lunch break to some nearby nations, it leaves a lot to be desired. France sits proudly at the opposite end of the spectrum. Until a recent relaxation in the labour code due to COVID, lunch at your workstation was technically illegal until February 2021. Lunch would normally span 12-2pm, regarded as a social, convivial event. In Sweden, as well as stopping for lunch, two Fika breaks partition the working day, a time to chat to colleagues over coffee and a pastry. It seems that stopping to eat, socialise and re-charge is accepted and protected as healthy, happy workplace practice. Something that we in the UK, have lost sight of.
We’re damaging our health.
Britain is the sixth fattest country in the OECD, with poor diet overtaking smoking and drinking as the nation’s biggest premature killer. As our time to prepare from scratch has dwindled, our dependence on quick convenience has worsened, filling our diet with processed foods high in salt, fat and sugar. The food that we eat when we’re rushing through our day generally isn’t giving us the nutrition we need to feel good and fuel other healthy habits, like after-work exercise or cooking an evening meal from scratch. Rushed, isolated decisions can easily snowball into wider unhealthy lifestyle choices.
We’re increasing feelings of being lost and lonely.
Communal eating, or “commensality” has always been integral to the human experience. From the beginning of time, the ritual of sharing a meal has been a fundamental social, synchronised activity, cementing feelings of community and togetherness. As our lunch break has become a more independent activity, with people taking a personal ten minutes anywhere between 12pm and 3pm, we’ve lost this shared rhythm in the working day. We’re without the conversation, eye contact and cross-pollination of ideas that make us feel inspired and happy at work.
We’re dampening our creativity.
An uninspiring lunch = an uninspired mind. The main reason we stop to eat every day is because we love eating. It’s an instinctual act with pleasure to be found in just enjoying what’s in front of us. With this time comes a break from the rigid, to-do list routine of our day; a time for enjoying, contemplating, ruminating and reflecting. When we don’t stop to savour and re-set during our meal times - looking down at our third cheese sandwich of the week - how can we expect to feel enthusiastic or inspired? The act of mindless eating is killing our creativity.
Food is the ultimate conduit for culture.
Seeing as working adults spend a third of their waking hours 'at work', building positive eating rituals within these hours is vital for general health and wellbeing, both physical and mental. After such uncertainty due to COVID, health in the workplace has never been a more important agenda point, and where gym memberships and health insurance are always welcomed, is it time we start looking at the most important facet of it all? Food. What we're eating, when we're eating and how we're eating.
After all, when we talk about healthy workplace culture - collaboration, communication, inclusivity etc - couldn’t so many of these things be enveloped in a great work food culture?
How can I build a healthy workplace food culture?
1. Consider a 45 minute to 1 hour mandatory lunch break. Time spent away from workstations to eat a healthy meal, get outside and catch up with colleagues or family phone calls.
2. Set a fixed lunch time and build this into company routine. Encouraging everyone to block this time from their day-to-day schedules, free from meetings, calls or emails.
3. In the office, create work-free, social spaces where employees want to gather, socialise and eat together.
4. Make healthy snacking easier than unhealthy snacking, for example having fruit or snack bars on hand for everyone to dip in to.
5. While WFH, encourage teams to engage in shared experiences, for example suggest watching the same talk or documentary - a “lunch and learn”, host a WFH lunch competition or join an online yoga class.
6. Lastly, lead by example. Buy-in will depend on management also implementing this change. Eventually healthy lunching habits will just be an accepted part of the company fabric.
CANTEEN is here to help.
We make it easy for companies across Edinburgh to provide their team with access to delicious, healthy food at lunchtime. Contact us today.