A FEW years ago, I decided it was time to get fit. Enough of this eating my sandwiches at my desk, I thought. Arthur’s Seat is just outside my office window. I’m going to go mountain-climbing at lunchtime. I rallied the troops, convincing at least one of my co-workers to join me on my trek. Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm, I accidentally sent an invitation to my incredibly busy boss, suggesting he join us for a lunchtime wander. I think I’d even attached a mocked up picture of myself in full Everest-style hiking gear.
The mistake was an easy one to make: he has a name similar to that of another colleague and we had one of those irritating e-mail systems that automatically selects a regular addressee’s name when you type the first couple of letters. I’ve always thought whoever designed those must be sitting at home revelling in the enormous number of embarrassing blunders for which he (or she) has been responsible.
The response? “Thank you so much for your kind offer, but I haven’t taken a break in five years. And I’m not likely to be able to start now. Sorry – have fun.”
Five years. But it was true – the poor guy hardly ever left his desk. I’m not even sure I saw him go to the toilet in the six or so years we worked together.
Needless to say, he was not a smoker. According to a survey, a typical smoker spends 30 minutes a day away from their desk puffing away on a nicotine hit, usually split into three separate smoking breaks a day, lasting ten minutes each. And the habit costs companies dear, with each break accounting for about £5.61 of lost productivity, based on average earnings: a total of £1,458 a year.
Compare that to my boss, who was glued to his seat for the entirety of the working day, constantly producing. Bless him.
It is not, however, only smokers who take universally accepted breaks. But what constitutes an acceptable reason for regular absences from your desk? When I was newly pregnant, I spent at least 30 minutes every day with my head stuck down one of the executive loos (they were further away from the main office, where my bizarre behaviour was more likely to attract suspicion). I felt guilty about my long disappearances, but there wasn’t a lot I could do.
I have another colleague who is addicted to tea. Seriously addicted: one day, he consumed no fewer than 13 cuppas in a nine-hour period. However, he makes so many that he has got the process down to a fine art, taking no longer than a couple of minutes each time.
He, ironically, is a reformed smoker, having swapped an addiction to nicotine for one to caffeine – but also retaining the need for a regular break.
A fellow worker believes it has nothing to do with substance addiction, but more to do with a mild attention deficit disorder – Teaboy is unable to sit still at his desk for longer than a half hour stretch, a habit which became entrenched in his smoking days.
Noticeable absences attract a certain level of disapproval – even if they are with specific goals, such as smoking a cigarette or making a cuppa. However, it is just as easy to waste time when firmly seated at your desk. It has been claimed employees fritter away as much as an hour a day on “life admin” such as Facebook, shopping and browsing the web for holidays.
Unlike activities that require you to leave your desk, surreptitiously e-mailing friends or browsing social networking sites is largely undetectable to others in the office but just as harmful to production.
Yet research from health company Bupa has shown that workers can lose as much as 40 minutes of their day due to an energy dip mid-afternoon if they are not able to take a decent lunch break.
But while more than a third of employees say they experience pressure from managers to work through their lunch hour and half feel the weight of their workload prevents them from taking a break, there are others (like myself) who are often just plain lazy. The answer is simple: if we all took our allocated breaks and went for a walk or jog at lunchtime, rather than lazily slumping in front of our screens, claiming we’re far too busy to move, we would almost certainly feel more refreshed and less in need of procrastination time elsewhere in the working day.
Maybe I should send out another e-mail to my colleagues. Who’s for a lunchtime hike? Boss?