Brits would rather have flexible working hours than a full lunch hour

Most Brits spend their lunch break surfing the web or catching up on work. Photo: Westend61/REX/Shutterstock

The traditional lunch hour is waning in popularity and the average lunch break across the UK is now just 30 minutes, according to survey results released Wednesday.

An online survey of 2,000 working Brits by job recruitment site Glassdoor found that seven out of 10 employees take less than an hour for lunch — and many would rather have flexible working hours than any designated lunch break.

When asked what they would prefer instead of a lunch break, 40% said they would rather have reduced working hours so they could come in to work late or leave early.

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Over a third (35%) said they would prefer the flexibility to take a break whenever they wanted, while almost a quarter (24%) said they would rather have a higher pay rate and fewer breaks. 

However, this may prove tricky for UK workplaces to implement as employees are legally entitled to at least one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during the working day.

Lunch breaks are no longer about just eating lunch. When asked how they usually spend their lunch break, over a quarter (28%) of Brits said they browse the internet. A fifth said they spend their time on social media.

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Another 23% said they sit at their desk to catch up on work, while 17% said they spend the time on general admin or running errands.

Not everyone wants to be sociable at lunch, either. More than a third of employees (36%) said they prefer to be alone on their lunch break and get some time away from the office. However, 27% said they usually spend lunch with colleagues.

“The lunch hour is becoming a thing of the past and fewer people have the time or the inclination to take long lunch break anymore,” said John Lamphiere, a managing director for Glassdoor.

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“Many employees grab half an hour and they use that time to work, shop, go online, play games, run errands or exercise. Eating lunch is squeezed in there somewhere.

“It seems like greater flexibility in working hours or higher pay would be far more preferable to most employees than a traditional hour-long lunch break. Employers can tap into this desire for flexibility by having an adjustable policy when it comes to taking breaks and general working hours.

“Every employee is different, but if someone wants to work through lunch to leave early on occasion, then managers can generate a lot of goodwill by being open to these types of requests.”

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A quarter of respondents said they cut their lunch breaks short out of fear of falling behind. Almost a fifth (18%) revealed they feel like they have to work through lunch because everybody else does.

When it comes to employer attitudes to lunch breaks, just under a third (31%) said their company is very flexible and happy for workers to take a break when they need to.

The UK workplace does perhaps have some way to go before it can claim to be fully flexible: Only 16% of UK employees said they have total autonomy over how long they take for lunch and when they take it.