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Hard graft and a packed lunch

17 February 2012

Across Britain, the average worker is spending more time in the office and taking shorter breaks than ever before, while employers are having to cut back on perks and on-site catering facilities to ensure their companies weather the recession. With this in mind, Aimee MacDonald looks at how changing work habits are affecting the way staff refuel and what employers can do to make sure their workforce gets the breaks it needs to boost productivity, morale and engagement.

Britain has always been known as a nation of hard workers, and the average UK employee in 2012 is no exception. The standard nine-to-five day, with a full hour lunch break, has been replaced with longer hours and shorter breaks. A recent survey by Mars Drinks UK found that, on average, we arrive in work at 8.09am, grabbing our first hot drink 21 minutes later at 8.30am. We then spend most of our day sitting at our desks, dealing with 41 calls and 58 emails, before leaving the office nine hours and 13 minutes later at 5.22pm. So when and how are employees refuelling during the day?

Your desk or mine?
The survey found that the average worker takes a lunch break of 28 minutes and 31 seconds. Most workers don’t even leave their desks at lunch time (51.3%), and for those who do, just 22.9 per cent use their on-site canteen, while 12.8 per cent take a trip to their local café. Some 75.6 per cent admit to buying lunch some or all of the time, with 61.4 per cent spending an average of £3.23, with most splashing out on convenience foods like the local supermarket’s meal deal (19.39%) or a hot dish like chilli, curry or pasta (12.4%). While most of us are happy to buy lunch some of the time, nearly half (48.9%) regularly tuck into a packed lunch or yesterday’s leftovers.

With the vast majority of employees choosing to stay on office premises for their lunch break, employers need to make sure that they are providing adequate facilities that will encourage workers away from their desks. However, as the recession bites, a third of employers have admitted to cutting back on perks like on-site catering and hot drinks machines, despite two thirds recognising that such cut backs can damage staff morale. While removing costly on-site catering facilities may be an effective way to save money, employers need to make sure they are offering an alternative space for staff to take their break. Rather than removing refreshment facilities entirely, employers can gain favour with their employees by creating break out areas offering fruit bowls, premium hot drinks brands and self-service food machines, giving workers an area where they can chat to colleagues and take a break from their PC monitors.

Take a break
Encouraging workers to step away from their desks will not only help to make them be more productive during work time, but it will also help to alleviate some of the stresses of modern office life. The survey found that most workers paint a positive picture of the office workplace, with 54 per cent saying they are happy in their jobs. By offering spaces where colleagues can get together, chat and unwind, employers can nurture their happy workforces.

While we are generally a happy bunch when we’re at work, the odd niggle can creep in, and one in ten workers admit to being riled by refreshment machines that stop working and colleagues who refuse to take their turn at making hot drinks. While it may not be at the forefront of an employer’s mind, encouraging staff to utilise specially created break spaces can alleviate these stresses by getting everyone to take a break with a brew or a snack. This can be one of the most valuable perks in the office when you consider that the average worker drinks three cups of tea and/or coffee a day. By providing premium branded products free of charge, employers can provide an everyday treat that can soften the blow when other facilities have to be removed.

As well as allowing staff to take a breather, the break out area looks set to play an increasingly important role in the modern workplace, as employers begin to introduce more flexible patterns of working and as more business start to operate on an international level. While the introduction of new methods of working, such as flexi-time and hot-desking, will allow employees to better manage their work/life balance, it may also mean that individuals spend less time with their other team members in person. By creating inviting break out areas, away from the pressures of the rest of the office, employees will be able to catch-up with colleagues and get to know people from other teams, and they can even use this informal area for internal meetings and brainstorms.

Looking ahead to the future, it’s not unforeseeable that office life could become a 24 hour culture, with some staff working late into the night, with others arriving in the early hours, and for these employees, having a relaxing break area will allow them to pause, reflect and refuel, no matter what time of the day or night.

From Nine-to-Five to… 24/7?
As working patterns change, and food and drink habits in the workplace shift to match, employers need to make sure that their employees are taking regular breaks to aid their concentration and release the stresses of the modern office. By offering comfortable, inviting break out areas, where colleagues can get together to enjoy a snack, hot drink and a catch up, employers can benefit from a contented and productive workforce.

Aimee MacDonald,trade marketing executive at Mars Drinks UK

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