Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lunch is for the wise

In a BBC TV programme about French culture, an English guy working as a manager in a French company in Paris said that he'd learned not to schedule meetings around lunch-time. While he would eat a sandwich at his desk, the French insisted on a proper lunch. Another example of the rejection of US/UK erosion of workers' rights, as with the CPE. On Monday there was an article in the Guardian showing that the French (and Italians) are being very sensible - and, rather than criticise them for supposedly refusing to "modernize", we ought to follow their example:

"Take a break from the routine"

Giles Morris finds that the growing trend among UK workers to skimp on their lunch hours can affect both health and performance.

'"Lunch is for wimps." Or so declared Michael Douglas as macho financier Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street. And ever since, it seems, the humble lunch-hour has been under attack.

Recently it was reported that the time spent by the average British worker over lunch has dropped from 23 to a mere 19 minutes, one minute less than our statutory entitlement under European law.

So what's going on? Why don't British workers spend a bit of time over their midday meal? Have we turned into a nation of willing slaves, munching a sandwich while glued to our computer screens because we're so enamoured with our work, or are there other factors at play?

If someone is taking only 19 minutes for lunch, they're working 41 minutes per day for free. Doesn't sound too bad on a daily basis, but over a working year, that adds up to 164 man-hours - a whopping 20.5 working days in total... And not taking a lunch-break has health consequences beyond indigestion. According to Dr Cynthia McVey, senior lecturer in psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, "research into stress shows that if you don't have a break you get jaded and you can't concentrate. You'll make more errors. You'll think more slowly and worry more than you need to about minor details." Taking time out, says McVey, can sometimes help you to solve a problem. "You walk round the block and come back with a different perspective."
Such things are second nature to our European neighbours. Take Italy. Jonathan Keates, author of Italian Journeys and guides to Tuscany and Umbria says that in northern Italy they take two hours for lunch. "This involves going out to restaurants, a works canteen or lunch bars, serving various dishes akin to tapas." A stark contrast to lunchtime in British offices.

"Italians would not eat at their desks," says Keates. "Nobody eats on the hoof in Italy. There isn't that frantic grabbing of a sandwich." Back in the UK, a culture seems to be growing in which taking a lunchbreak is frowned upon. Research by suggests that one in four workers are worried that taking their full lunch break entitlement will create a negative impression with colleagues or the boss. Almost two-thirds stay in the office for lunch, and 47% eat at their desk...'

Monday April 3, 2006, The Guardian

Workers of the UK - get out to lunch - reclaim all those days - or go on a demo.