To lunch, or not to lunch

To lunch, or not to lunch; that is a question which is increasingly being brought into the open, particularly in the context of flexible working practices. It’s also a question which needs careful consideration, taking account both of employee needs and employee welfare.


Now it is perhaps important at this stage to highlight some of the regulations surrounding rest breaks. As the government’s ‘rest breaks at work’ webpage highlights, workers aged over eighteen are entitled to benefit from; rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest. So if working over six hours, workers are entitled to have a twenty minute rest break during the day and employers are expected to give employees enough rest breaks to make sure their health and safety is put at risk if the work is monotonous, for example if they work on a production line.


In addition to statutory minima, there is a raft of health and safety guidelines about the importance of ensuring employees have regular breaks, giving them a chance to move around and to rest their eyes away from computer screens. But there is another area which is not so well highlighted, the importance of ensuring that employees have access to food and liquids as required.


An opinion piece in The BMJ at the end of January called for hospitals to remove any barriers to doctors eating and drinking during the working day. The article highlighted how taking regular breaks and eating and drinking routinely is “a critical component of being “optimised” at all times, helping to sustain our energy, concentration, and performance, and reduce the risk of human error.”


This need to ensure adequate levels of hydration and nutrition, whether at lunch or throughout the day,  isn’t just confined to doctors. Whilst the article is naturally focused on healthcare professionals, it also mentions a study which reports on the effects of dehydration in pilots with dehydration leading to a significant reduction in working memory, spatial awareness and flying accuracy.


When it comes to healthcare professionals, it is easy to see how the best intentions can be overcome by events. A sudden emergency, a patient being late for an appointment or treatment time overrunning can create a concertina effect in which any planned nutrition time disappears. As a result tiredness creeps in and judgement becomes impaired, leading to further problems both in terms of the individuals welfare and the welfare of patients which they are treating.


This can affect any member of the care professional. And whilst part of the answer comes from individuals taking control of their own nutrition, health practices too have a part to play in ensuring the welfare of their people. From scheduling and enforcing regular rest breaks to optimising work practices in order to reduce time-consuming clerical duties, health practices can make a difference to the day-to-day health of their people. And of course, this has a knock-on benefit in the treatment of patients.


To lunch or not to lunch; whatever the answer, the solution has to take account of the positive impact which comes from ensuring your people have access to regular nutrition and rehydration breaks.