The fifth Aviva Health of the Workplace report came out last month, containing some illuminating insights into the fate of the working lunch in the UK. Once one of the bastions of British industry and protected by centuries of tradition, it now appears a feeble shadow of its former self, put high on the endangered list by the recession and ongoing economic fears.
Based on interviews earlier this year with 4,000 employers and employees, the report shows that 30% of staff feel themselves under too much pressure to take a lunch break – a dire statistic, but at least an improvement on the 37% who gave the same response in 2009.
25% of employees interviewed took a lunch break only when workload permitted, but 13% skipped meals in the workplace altogether, reflecting either gross over-tasking or a considerable degree of scepticism as to their canteen’s Special of the Day. In that respect the survey noted that while 43% of workers are expressly encouraged by their employer to take a break at lunchtime, this message is then substantially undermined by a combination of workload and indifferent and unhealthy offerings in the in-house eatery.
The Aviva report also highlights the link between stress and poor workplace diets. The Top Five reported employee concerns at work are fairly evenly split between workload, the job generally, job security, money and “the future”. A survey many years ago suggested that for London workers all those paled into insignificance beside the horror of using public transport at rush hour, but Aviva’s point remains – nearly one in five employees claims to over-eat at work due to stress. Drilling into the 23% of staff surveyed who felt “really stressed”, however, does point to a small proportion who should perhaps have more to worry about – 13% of that 23%, though not currently stressed, were primarily concerned that they might become so in future.
On a positive note, workers’ responses to stress seem to be improving. Compared to 2009, the numbers seeking refuge in alcohol, smoking and sick days have all gone down. Even the 19% who over-eat represent a huge improvement on 2009’s 34%. By comparison, the single least- used resource to combat stress, an EAP or other counselling headline, remained flat at 2%, narrowly snatching the wooden spoon from those seeking relief in narcotics at 3%.
Last, the survey looked at what made employees happy in the workplace. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the canteen did not make the cut. At the bottom of the pile, the best thing about their workplace for 20% of survey respondents was no more than always being able to leave it on time, while the clear leader at over 50% was friendly and supportive colleagues. Bless.