The hour-long lunch break: Is it worth taking?

Eating at your desk is not necessarily the most productive thing to do at lunch
Even well-known executives aren’t afraid to take some “me time”.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have been known to take them together. The French often take twice as long as the rest of us (and the Italians longer still), while 20 per cent of Brits claim not to take one at all, according to a survey by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
For many in the City, the right to a daily, hour-long lunch break has proved to be worth less than the paper their contract was written on – a token promise that no one really expects to be able to hold their employer to. Working through lunch has even become a badge of honour in some circles, with a culture of “presenteeism” seeing finance workers compete over who can put the most hours in at the desk. The average UK lunch break stood at just 29 minutes last year, a study by food and drink company Princes found, down from 33 minutes the year before.
This trend could be bad for business, according to nutritionists, health professionals and a range of HR organisations – increasing the risk of heart disease, and making it harder to concentrate in the afternoon. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has told bosses they should make a greater effort to encourage employees to leave the desk for a decent chunk of time. So what’s the most productive way to spend your lunch break? Here are some ideas from the super-successful.

EXPAND YOUR NETWORK

Tapping out emails on your phone may save you a few minutes here and there, but it’s by no means the most productive thing you could be doing. Lunch is a time to get away from the office and build bridges – something Virgin’s Richard Branson knows well. In the midst of his infamous battle with British Airways, Branson decided to invite rival chief executive Sir Colin Marshall to talk things through over some quality food. “We had a delightful lunch at my house in London and became friends and buried the hatchet,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Few things lubricate business relationships as well as a steak and some good wine.

TAKE AN EXERCISE CLASS

You’ve probably dodged a group of lycra-clad lunchtime joggers on your way to Pret at some point, and clubs like London City Runners (based near London Bridge) don’t charge membership fees. But there’s plenty more to get up to in the City if lunchtime jogging isn’t your cup of tea.
Citigroup chief executive Michael Corbat is a well-known gym freak, and it’s hard to turn a corner in the Square Mile without coming across a Virgin Active, Fitness First or Box. But Stanton Kawer, chief executive of Blue Chip Marketing Worldwide, tells Forbes that yoga might be the way forward for stressed-out managers: “blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Finally, taking up a lunchtime hobby could be a more productive use of time than just shovelling more sushi into your mouth, slouched over the desk. Mohammed Islam, a 17-year-old from New York, has hit the news over claims that he’s traded stocks in school lunch breaks for several years now, earning him millions of dollars according to the Daily Mail (although the story is disputed). But even idle card games at lunch have proved popular among the successful – Gates and Buffett are keen bridge players.

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