Is the lunch break a thing of the past?
Financial stress, casualisation of the workforce, and digital disruption impacting how we spend our time
I had a chat this afternoon with Nova’s FiveAA host, Alan Hickey, on how Australian workers spend their lunch breaks. A recent study by Quickbooks shows that 23% of Australians work through their lunch break every day. A further 10% never work through their meal break. Apparently the ‘land of the long weekend’ means that we work harder than ever throughout the week… or is the ‘land of the long weekend’ still a reality, amidst the push to keep up with the cost of living pressures (at the individual level) and mitigate the effects of digital disruption (at the business level)?
Reasons for skipping lunch
The research lists the following as key reasons for working through lunch:
1. Too much work (31%)
2. ‘So I can leave early (15%)
3. ‘I prefer it’ (15%)
4. The need to catch up on emails (11%)
Below is a summary of some of my thoughts on why Australians are skipping lunch, from a social trends perspective.
1. Getting more done a shorter space of time: We live in an era of the gig economy, entrepreneurship, and a casualised workforce. Thirty years ago, just 1 in 10 workers worked part-time, whereas today it is 3 in 10. Workers are needing to get more done in a shorter space of time. Part-time workers have less time, as do those with more household responsibilities (women, for example, are less likely to take lunch breaks – that’s what research from The Australia Institute tells us).
2. Autonomy to the worker: Workplaces are increasingly being encouraged to provide greater flexibility to workers on start and finish times. While having ‘too much work on’ is the key reason for skipping lunch, it’s not the only one. One in seven (15%) do it so they can leave early, and another 15% because they simply prefer it. Most workplace cultures have moved towards greater autonomy to the individual… allowing the person to choose how (or how not) they spend their lunch time.
3. Disruption: The issue of ‘too much work’ is linked to the pressure Australian employers have to consistently innovate and adapt in this era of disruption. Nearly half (44%) of Australian jobs will become digitally automated in the next 10-15 years. Whole industries are being disrupted while new industries are emerging. This places huge pressure on business to consistently outperform… and this pressure is expressed through larger workloads.
4. Financial stress: The Australian Psychological Society attributes financial stress as the key source of stress impacting on Australians for five years in a row. This is no surprise, based on external factors: average household debt is twice what it was a decade ago, the cost of living continues to be higher than CPI, household incomes have been flat since 2009 (see HILDA data), and the price of housing has increased at twice the rate of average wage growth in the past decade. Workers are feeling the pinch of financial stress – and doing what they can to work their hardest to get ahead…
Therefore, is it all employer pressure?
While trade unions love this type of data (encouraging a push towards greater regulation and the blame towards the employer), skipping lunches is not largely the effect of employer policies or poor workplace culture. Just 3% of those who skip lunch do so to ‘impress’ the boss; and another 6% do so because of peer pressure / company culture.
Do you take a lunchbreak? I have to admit that more often than not, I try to squeeze in a bit more productive time in during the middle of the day – but do find changing head-spaces halfway through the day is critical to achieving focus!
A bit more about me
I love giving talks, facilitating strategy sessions, and undertaking research with employers on how they can create thriving workplace cultures.