Is the lunch hour over?

Seven in ten UK employees (70 percent) say that they take less than an hour for lunch, and the average lunch break across the UK lasts just 31 minutes, according to a new survey from Glassdoor.

The online survey polled 2,000 employed adults across the UK. As well as asking people how long they take for lunch, it also posed the question of what people do with their lunch break, and what they would prefer instead of a lunch break, with many people saying they are looking for more flexibility in working hours.

In a sign that popularity of the traditional lunch hour is waning, 40 percent of employees say they would rather have reduced working hours so they could come in to work late or leave early, instead of a designated lunch break. Over one third (35 percent) would prefer to have the flexibility to take a break whenever they wanted so that they have control over their day. One in four people (24 percent) say that they would rather have a higher rate of pay and fewer breaks. For many workplaces in the UK, this may prove tricky to implement however, since there are legal minimums for rest breaks at work.

Lunch breaks are clearly no longer just about eating lunch. A quarter (28 percent) of UK employees say they spend their lunch break browsing the internet and 23 percent say they sit at their desk to catch up on work. A fifth of employees (20 percent) spend their lunch break on social media and 17 percent say they use that time on general admin or running errands. Not everyone wants to be sociable at lunch, with more than one in three employees (36 percent) saying they prefer to be on their own during their lunch break and get some time away from the office. However, 27 percent of employees say that they usually spend lunch with their colleagues.

John Lamphiere, EMEA Managing Director at Glassdoor, said,

The lunch hour is becoming a thing of the past and fewer people have the time or the inclination to take a long lunch break anymore. Many employees grab half an hour and they use that time to work, shop, go online, play games, run errands or exercise. Eating lunch is squeezed in there somewhere. It seems like greater flexibility in working hours or higher pay would be far more preferable to most employees than a traditional hour-long lunch break.

Employers can tap into this desire for flexibility by having an adjustable policy when it comes to taking breaks and general working hours. Every employee is different, but if someone wants to work through lunch to leave early on occasion, then managers can generate a lot of goodwill by being open to these types of requests.

In terms of why people might cut short their lunch breaks, one in four people (25 percent) say it it would be out of fear of falling behind in their work. One in five UK employees (18 percent) reveal that they sometimes feel they have to work through their lunch break because everyone else at work does. However, when it comes to employer attitudes to lunch breaks, just under one in three people (31 percent) say that their company is very flexible and happy for them to take a break when they need to. The UK workplace does perhaps have some way to go before it can claim to be fully flexible: only 16 percent of UK employees say that they have total autonomy over how long they take for lunch and when they take it.