Eating healthily and taking regular breaks at work

Research carried out by Aviva (to be published in September 2011 in the Health of the Workplace report) suggests that UK workers’ eating habits are suffering due to stress.

Although employees and line managers generally recognise the value of taking a lunch break for wellbeing (43% of workers are encouraged to take a lunch break by their employers), it seems that longer hours and workplace pressures are stopping staff from taking the necessary breaks at work. A quarter will only take a lunch break if they feel their workload allows it, while 13% of employees skip meals in the workplace altogether. Some workers report their workload as the main reason for skipping lunch breaks, whilst others feel pressure from their bosses to remain at their desks.

For some employees, stress results in other poor dietary habits: 19% claim they overeat at work and nearly 15% of employees believe their health is affected because they are eating unhealthily at work as a result of longer working hours.

The results showed that nearly a third (30%) of employees say they are unlikely to take a lunch break. It appears that one barrier to healthy eating in the workplace is the limited availability of healthy eating options. Of those employers who offer food in the workplace (45%), over a third (38%) apparently mainly offer unhealthy options. And the consumption of unhealthy food and beverages such as caffeine and sweet foods can lead to irritability, insomnia and dehydration.

Employers have a role to play in encouraging employees to eat healthy food in the workplace and take regular breaks from their desks. A cultural shift towards proper breaks at work would improve overall employee wellbeing and productivity, even if these breaks were short, frequent changes of activity away from the desk rather than one, longer lunch break. Workers who don’t eat properly or take regular breaks are unlikely to remain productive throughout the day, which will ultimately cost organisations money. Guidance can be sought by employers from the Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44 on keeping staff healthy and well enough to work to their full potential.

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