In a workplace culture that is getting busier and busier, employees are ignoring lunch breaks to complete their tasks in time.
Could this trend be affecting the workforce’s productivity and even Australians’ health?
Concerning statistics on taking breaks at work
More than one in five Australians skip their lunch breaks, according to research published by The Australia Institute in 2013’s 'Hard to get a break paper' - that’s around 3.8 million employees!
Of those workers who do take their lunch break, 72% said they often cut short, worked through or postpone their break.
The three most common reasons people gave for skipping their break were:
- They are too busy (48%).
- They work part-time (21%).
- Their workplace culture is to skip lunch (12%).
The importance of breaks at work
For both health and productivity purposes, here’s why you should take a break at work:
- We are less productive without breaks. Working at your best for a shorter period is better than working at a reduced capacity for longer. Researchers in 2020 found even taking 40 second ‘microbreaks’ improved workers sustained attention.
- Ignoring your break can affect your health. Working for extended periods of time has been scientifically proven to lead to heart disease, diabetes, stress related disease and repetitive strain injuries. When it comes to sedentary work, like driving a bus or working at a desk, a 2018 study found breaks helped employees avoid typical workplace injuries.
What breaks are you entitled to at work in Australia?
If you are an employee, your break entitlements will depend on your employment award or contract.
Awards are legal documents outlining the minimum pay and conditions of employment in a specific industry. If you are covered by a modern award, typically you have a right to a half-an-hour break after five hours of work. You can find out which award covers your industry on the FairWork Ombudsman website.
If you are employed in an industry not covered by an award, your break entitlements will depend on the employment contract you signed with your employer.
Things to do during your lunch break at work
- Taking a walk will increase blood flow to your brain, improving memory and cognitive performance.
- Eating brain boosting foods like fish, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, avocado, blueberries, wholegrains and raw carrots can help you avoid an afternoon slump.
- Getting a coffee. For people who get up between 6am-8am, the optimal time for coffee is between 9.30am - 11.30am and 1.30pm - 5.30pm.
- Listening to music has been proven to improve motor and reasoning skills.
- Talking to coworkers is a productive way to break, as you can talk about any issues you may be having, get advice and de-stress.
- Exercising at lunch is a great way to hit your fitness goals. Check if your employer has a fitness group or corporate gym discount.
The consequences of not taking breaks from work
If you are unable to take breaks you may be at a higher risk of suffering a workplace-related injury.
For example, workers who perform sedentary work without breaks can suffer injuries such as repetitive strain or deep vein thrombosis. In industries like construction or freight, a failure to manage fatigue by taking breaks can cause mistakes with serious and even fatal consequences.
To counter these risks and protect your health, it’s important to make sure you are getting enough rest at work. If your workload doesn’t allow you to take breaks, raise this with your manager.
Shine Lawyers are workers compensation experts
Even when appropriate breaks are taken, sometimes things can go wrong at work and people are hurt. For 45 years, Shine Lawyers’ Workers Compensation experts have helped injured workers access the support they need to recover. On a No Win No Fee* basis we’ve assisted thousands of Australians claim their Workers Compensation or superannuation insurance entitlements.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 7, 2021.