Reinventing the lunch hour to lift productivity

We've all experienced the 'thrill' of lunch on the go: a quick salad at your desk or half-eaten sandwich dashing between meetings. But what benefit does a dedicated lunch hour bring to the day, and can it mean the difference between a lethargic unproductive afternoon and a turbo-charged second half of the day?

Recent figures from the British Heart Foundation show that one in five workers fail to take a lunch break and, rather worryingly, 32 per cent believe that their bosses don’t care very much for their health.

Of the same 1,200 working adults surveyed, some 68 per cent state that their boss should be taking responsibility for their general health at work.

Health and well-being can be directly linked to happiness in the work place. The same British Heart Foundation report also found that two-fifths of employers report an increase in the amount of stress related absence during the past year. So what are businesses attempting to curb employees declining health? GrowthBusiness met companies which are putting the lunch hour at the heart of the working day.

Legs, bums and tums

When Postcode Anywhere decided to relocate its office from the outskirts of Worcester into the town centre, a healthy lifestyle was at the forefront of the new set-up. To coincide with the move, the software firm signed up to a company gym membership and encouraged employees to make the most of it and get some exercise at lunch.

Guy Mucklow, CEO and co-founder of Postcode Anywhere, says that a month in and about a third of staff have signed up to the discounted gym membership.

‘We’ve always been fairly active and encouraged our staff to exercise. We got in on the cycle to work scheme fairly early and now 40 per cent of staff have bought bikes through it.

‘I’m not a big fan of people sitting at desks and working away. For me, after breaking into a sweat at lunch I certainly feel more up for afternoon activities.’

Postcode Anywhere’s gym has laid on tailored gym classes aimed at those exercising during lunch. With sessions lasting half an hour, Mucklow says he is encouraged by the amount of people getting involved.

The company’s healthy lifestyle approach is paying off, Mucklow adds. ‘I’ve looked at some statistics and the average absenteeism rate is eight days – ours is one and a half.’

Like Postcode Anywhere, for Welsh law firm Capital Law, the move to a new office two years ago offered the chance to shake up its catering and social space.

Social hub

Whereas its old kitchen was simply about offering workers a place to buy a sandwich or zap something in the microwave, the new approach was designed to provide space for people to have a coffee, mingle with colleagues or get clients in for lunch.

The firm now has space for 50 people; with long communal tables encouraging socialising while smaller intimate ones are aimed at client meetings. The partners plumped for an industrial chic approach with an injection of colour to make it a more engaging space and shake up the traditional feel of a law firm by bringing a human side to it.

Marketing director Paula Morris says that the company brought in its own chef, Ian Young, who sat down with employees to discover what their dietary requirements were.

Morris says, ‘The convenience is a big thing for us as it means we get to spend more time together. We can catch-up with colleagues and have some social time.

‘The menu gets emailed out the day before and people can then get main meals for about £3.50. The scheme is subsidised so is not meant to make a profit, it also means we can do our own catering for the events which we run.’

The firm is also encouraging staff to take part in after work cookery events. Morris says that three of the lawyers at Capital Law are budding masterchefs and will soon be competing in Capital Cooks – a seven course banquet with guests invited in to dine.

More on different approaches in the workplace:

Lunching practices in Silicon Valley

Central to lunchtime activities at Atom42 is its ping-pong table. Similar to offices seen at the likes of Google and Facebook, founder Andy Atalla says that the decision to bring a social activity into the workplace has had a positive effect on moral.

‘People tend to use the table throughout lunchtime, meanwhile, staff often compete against adjoining offices and have long-running championships – all very sociable,’ Atalla explains.

‘We believe that getting away from your desk and doing something different at lunchtime can help stimulate creativity, something which is very important for an online marketing agency.’

Unlike most businesses, serviced apartments company SilverDoor requests that employees avoid eating at their desks during lunch hours. The firm likes staff to socialise with each other and engage in conversation that isn’t solely work related.

Danielle Mahoney, human resources and recruitment manager at SilverDoor, says that this allows people to get to know each other better which, she believes, almost always results in better working relationships.

‘We have a pool table, table football, a darts board and air hockey as well as a TV and plenty of seating for everyone,’ Mahoney adds.

‘We find that this has a really positive affect on the office environment which doesn’t go unnoticed among our clients and property partners.

‘It also promotes healthy eating and prevents snacking between meals. If employees are asked not to eat at their desks, they are less likely to snack, supporting a healthy lifestyle.’

SilverDoor provides lots of fresh fruit in its kitchen and its efforts to create an inspiring and enjoyable place to work for staff has resulted in the business coming 17th in the The Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For last year.

Red, amber and green

Do one to others as you do to yourself is the mantra that exists at The Chemistry Group. With the company in the business of going into large organisations and improving performance through people, it likes to take the same approach in its own environment.

CEO Roger Philby had been looking at the numbers and noticed that, while his business started the year strongly, by July it had peaked. Instead of exiting the year on an up from a pipeline prospective, it was decreasing.

Philby commissioned a survey to find out what was going on and found out that energy had a big part to play. The study discovered that employees were shattered, so a number of changes were initiated.

The Chemistry Group brought in a nutritionist to run diagnoses on readings such as blood sugar levels. This has led to a RAG report being compiled consisting of R (red) A (amber) and G (green) statuses for each employee. The status is updated each month and Philby has already noticed an improvement in energy levels and company performance by changing diets to get people in the green zone.

‘My lunch before would have been a Red Bull and a Snickers,’ Philby admits. ‘I haven’t had a glass of orange juice in a year and a half as from a blood sugar perspective it really screws me up and I can’t remember the last time I drank Red Bull.

‘What it has done is change my habits. Now I look at food and think, how will it make me feel? If I go out for lunch I’ll look at my diary to see what I need to do that afternoon. If I’m just on my own I can look at the risotto and think I’ll have that. But if I’ve got a client meeting I’ll choose something entirely different.’

Philby says that the changes employed have created a level of consciousness. For the company’s marketing ‘goddess’ Francesca Cockram the nutritionist found that the source of her perpetual tiredness was a B12 deficiency. Through a mixture of diet and supplements, Philby says that she has completely changed.

While Philby admits that most HR initiatives are hard to calculate, this one has not been so. Business has improved he says, with a marked change in turnover.

When I ask Philby what they will all be eating for lunch he says that today’s dish of the day is mozzarella and tomato salad with fennel, avocado and watercress. Maybe I should think twice about that sandwich I was planning to eat at my desk.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.