Belfast Telegraph

A good lunch goes a long way towards productivity

By Sinead Moriarty

I recently spilled tomato soup all over my keyboard. I can assure you that liquids and keyboards are a match made in hell. I am currently typing on sticky letters to the smell of stale tomato soup mixed with multi-purpose household cleaner.

After a lot of cursing, I had a flashback to the long, leisurely lunches I had enjoyed while working in France. I yearned for those three-course meals and glasses of wine in the company canteen.

Now it seems I always eat a sandwich, or soup, at my desk while staring at a screen. I'm sure this is not what any health expert would recommend – yet millions of people now spend their lunch hour in the exact same position. But not the French. The French take eating seriously. The midday meal is the biggest and most important in their day. Even children at school get between one-and-a-half to two hours for lunch.

Instead of having to stuff a ham sandwich down their neck in the space of 10 minutes, French kids get to eat freshly prepared three-course meals. However, despite their best efforts to keep it at bay, 'le sandwich' is slowly burrowing its way into French culture.

The real question on employers' lips is whether having a shorter lunch break makes you a more efficient employee? Not at all, say the experts, in fact it makes you less efficient.

The lunch-break has traditionally been, and should continue to be, a chance to refresh your body and mind and to socialise with co-workers. Time spent chatting with colleagues can lead to increased creativity and cross-pollination between departments.

Remaining chained to your desk while eating a soggy wrap isn't going to get your creative juices flowing, or help you make fruitful contacts in the company.

What about the Spanish and their extended lunch-break and nap? Is that a step too far? Having found myself nodding off in front of my screen on many an afternoon, I'd be a fan of the siesta.

However, it looks like the Spanish are about to say adios to the siesta. Under a new schedule proposed by the Spanish government, lunch, which currently starts at 2pm and goes on until 4 or 5pm, will be shortened to one hour.

A report by the Subcommission on Rationalising Working Hours, that was voted through by a Spanish parliamentary panel, noted that: "A working day split up by an excessive lunch-break needlessly adds to the hours workers spend away from home, with a consequent drop in their productivity."

Spain's chaotic working hours go back to Spanish dictator Franco who, in 1942, changed the country's time zone to coincide with Germany's in an act of solidarity with his fascist ally. As a result, Spanish clocks are up to three hours out of synch with daylight.

"The fact that Spain hasn't had a suitable time zone for more than 71 years means we get up too early and sleep an hour less than recommended by the World Health Organisation," the parliamentary panel said. The different working hours across Europe can make it difficult to do business across borders. But who is right and who is wrong? Should companies encourage their employees to break bread with their co-workers? Or is it more soothing for an employer to see everyone at their desk eating a sandwich while still 'working'?

Having tried both, I have to say I'm voting for the hour spent eating with colleagues. Spilling soup all over yourself and your computer is just grim.

* Mike Gilson returns next week

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