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Why do office workers skip lunch breaks? Study explores

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Stoke-on-Trent, England — Office workers: If you’re working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, have you continued your habit of eating lunch at your desk? Researchers say several reasons – including feelings of guilt – may explain why many workers skip their lunch break.

Previous research shows that 66% to 82% of workers don’t always take their breaks, according to a June 17 press release from Staffordshire University. To better understand the enablers and barriers to taking breaks, researchers from the university asked five focus groups of office workers about their lunch break habits. They identified five key themes:

  1. Social and work relationships influence whether employees take breaks. (For example, workers are more likely to take breaks if their colleagues do.)
  2. When employees are busy, work wins out over breaks.
  3. Some employees feel anxious and guilty about taking breaks.
  4. Workers feel they’re “fair game” for work-related matters if they remain at their desk during breaks.
  5. Whether employees take breaks depends on various factors (i.e., nonbinary). “It is not as simple as having those who do take breaks and those who don’t,” the release states.

Lead researcher Mike Oliver, a postdoctoral student at Staffordshire, said the pandemic has made it more difficult for workers to act on social prompts and take breaks.

 

“We found that one of the best ways to make sure that you take breaks is to take them with your work colleagues, or to be encouraged to take them by your boss,” Oliver said. “There is mounting concern about the amount of time people spend sitting down at work and not being physically active, so it is really important that people don’t put work ahead of breaks and their own physical and psychological health.”

The study was published online May 20 in the journal Psychology and Health.

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