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Image: © sabrinafvholder via nappy

Should we all start having hours-long work lunches?

It could have big benefits for employees' wellbeing and for employers' business success.

You only have to flick through a magazine article describing a CEO’s daily routine or scroll through tweets with the hashtag #hustle to see how working super hard is admired in countries like Britain. But even the most workaholic of workaholics needs a break sometimes. Our bodies simply can’t cope with unrelenting mental or physical activity without getting ill or hurt or just a bit rubbish at whatever task we’re attempting.

The UK government mandates minimum rest times for workers, including a 20 minute break after six hours of work. In practice, most employees only take slightly more than this minimum: the average lunch break is 31 minutes. Many people seem pretty happy with this status quo. Employers often like their staff to take short breaks on the basis that more time working means more work being done (and therefore more money for the business). Meanwhile, a majority of workers say they’d rather have more money than longer breaks (which are often unpaid).

But perhaps both parties should reconsider their stances. There’s evidence there would be some substantial benefits if we all started taking multi-hour, Mad Men style lunches (possibly with fewer martinis).

For a start, long lunches would give people the chance to properly switch off from work, fully recharge, and generally spend time refilling their happiness tank. It could also create a space for more socialising with colleagues, which could build team camaraderie and spark new ideas. All these things improve people’s wellbeing and their productivity. Indeed, some people think they can improve productivity so much that businesses should encourage long lunches by making them paid and counting them as part of the day’s working hours.

But there could be problems, too. Blurring the lines between socialising and working has the potential to create or exacerbate exclusionary and discriminatory problems such as cliques, Old Boys Clubs, and harassment. Even if that could be fixed, there are some jobs where long lunches just aren’t an option. A patient requiring emergency surgery or a water pipe that’s sprung a leak can’t wait around for a surgeon or plumber to finish up a leisurely three-hour lunch. Overall, long lunches would undoubtedly be most suited to white-collar office jobs, which means in practice it could be a benefit mostly enjoyed by people higher up the socio-economic ladder.

Read our explainer on: productivity.

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