Encouraging employees to step away from their desk at lunch

04 August 2021

Lunch breaks give us a vital mental and physical breather in the middle of the working day. If you regularly work through lunch, you risk becoming stressed and tired as the day progresses. Yet a Glassdoor survey of 2,000 UK employees suggests that less than a third take a full hour for lunch, and nearly a quarter spend the time catching up on work . With more people than ever now working at home, it can make it even harder to switch off and take a break.

So what can you do as a manager or employer to encourage staff to take a break? Here are a few ideas you may want to consider.

Taking the lead

Managers can do a lot to change the culture and attitudes to taking breaks in a workplace. It’s not enough to just encourage employees to have a break – you also need to lead by example. If colleagues see a senior manager taking a full lunch break, they’re likely to feel more comfortable in doing so themselves.

Heading outdoors

Taking a break doesn’t mean staying at your desk and catching up on emails or admin. Aim to get away from your desk completely during your breaks – and get outside if possible. Being outside can give you a chance to relax and de-stress, and means you can completely switch off from work. This can help with productivity in the long-run.

Getting some exposure to sunlight will also give you a much-needed dose of vitamin D. Many people in the UK don’t get enough of this vitamin, which could potentially lead to bone and muscle problems. Finally, getting outdoors will also give you a chance to stretch your legs. Being as active as possible is a vital part of staying healthy.

So: try to lead by example. Why not get out for a walk around the local park, or to a local shop at lunchtime? You could ask colleagues to come with you; or for those working from home, tell colleagues of your plans and encourage them to do the same!

Creating a good environment

Think about whether there are any changes you can implement in your workplace. Are there any lunch time activities you can arrange for staff that might encourage them to step away from their desks? This could be anything from table tennis to yoga classes. Or how about a step challenge to get people moving and introduce a little competition among colleagues? This could involve remote workers too.

Physical activities like this can also stop people from being too sedentary and add to their overall health. Activities can also give people a chance to socialise during their lunch break. Having the chance to chat to co-workers during the day can be an important way to let off steam.

Make sure workloads are balanced

People not taking their lunch break is often symptomatic of an overwhelming workload. Check to ensure that work is spread evenly across the team, and that people have the time needed to complete tasks without rushing. Heavy workloads can make employees less productive, make it more likely they’ll make mistakes, and affect their health.

Instil the benefits

It can be worth reminding those around you of the potential benefits of taking a break at lunch. They may see it as a chance to power through more work – but in the long run, they’re likely to lose concentration and efficiency faster if they don’t take time to rest.


  • New Glassdoor survey reveals forty percent of UK employees would rather reduce working hours than take lunch. Glassdoor., published 8 February 2019.
  • Oliver M, Rodham K, Taylor J, et al. Understanding the psychological and social influences on office workers taking breaks; a thematic analysis. Psychology & Health 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1080/08870446.2020.1764954.
  • Work-life balance. Mental Health Foundation., accessed 21 May 2021.
  • Nature and mental health. Mind., published May 2018.
  • Vitamin D deficiency in adults - treatment and prevention. Background information. Prevalence., last revised December 2020.
  • Vitamin D deficiency in adults - treatment and prevention. Background information. Complications., last revised December 2020.
  • Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers' report., published 7 September 2019.

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