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Meet the companies reinventing the lunch hour

Typical lunch hour
All too often employees revert to eating at their desk or on the move

It’s a part of the day that unites us all, whether you work on a shop floor or on a building site, but shaking up the lunch hour has proved fruitful for some enterprising businesses.

We all know what a typical office lunch break looks and smells like. A quick sprint to the supermarket for an already curling chicken and sweetcorn sandwich or a trip to the latest trendy eatery – leaving sticky sauce stains over computers and desks.

Whatever excites your taste buds, lunchtime is usually spent in the office or on the go and completed in as quick a time as possible. But it doesn’t have to be that unfulfilling.

Lunch breaks can help foster team spirit and rejuvenate staff both physically and emotionally. Be the Business spoke to four companies revitalising the lunch hour.

Employee-led options

Fancy going for a surf or perhaps learning Japanese? At Cornwall-based software firm Headforwards you don’t have to wait till you’re away from work to try a new activity.

That’s because the company, founded in 2011 by Craig Girvan and Toby Parkins, runs a series of lunch clubs for its 100 employees – ranging from those surfing and Japanese lessons to running clubs, badminton, laser tag and even building robots.

Surfing at lunch
Not every business can let staff surf at lunch, but it’s about making the most of a local area

“Toby and Craig set up the business in a particular way. They had come from previous environments where everyone was burned out by too much work, resulting in productivity dropping,” explained Marie Ashton, recruitment and talent specialist at Headforwards. “They believed that if you ask developers to work too many hours then that will mean more mistakes in codes. In fact, if we see any of our employees working in the office at 7pm we ask them why they are still there. We don’t want them going beyond daily working hours.”

The lunch clubs have been part of the business since day one, but have grown in range and size. “We want our employees to take their lunch hour and get away from their desks,” Ashton added. “As a business we have always promoted the idea of our employees using that time to take part in an activity. The ideas come from our employees, who then use Skype to form a group for each club. We use Skype because in a team of 100 not everybody knows each other.”

Ashton emphasised the lack of restrictions on types of clubs and said they don’t necessarily have to be completed within one hour. “If we have a running club and they go out for an hour and then need another 30 minutes for a shower then they can make that time up by coming in earlier another day,” she said. “In terms of benefits, we believe employees working together as a team during their lunch hour helps them bond. It means that when they get back to the office they know each other better, are happier to work on projects collaboratively and of course feel more physically and emotionally refreshed.”

It’s a strategy she believes other businesses should follow. “Allow your team to come up with suggestions. Let them organise the clubs, while you as managers promote the idea around the team,” she said. “It’s about preferring to work smarter rather than working harder and longer.”

Get walking

Keeping just as active is Hertfordshire-based SEO firm Reboot Online Marketing. A year and a half ago it created a “walk club” during lunch for its 15 employees.

Walk at lunch time
A little bit of exercise at lunch can do wonders for energy levels

“At Reboot Online, we are a small, quirky bunch of personalities, and so we have the ability of shaping the way we want the company to run,” said managing director Shai Aharony. “To help boost productivity, we found ways to incentivise staff during their lunch hour. The team very quickly took to walking regularly every lunch time, dubbing it ‘walk club’.”

“At first, it started with just a few team members to get some fresh air, but very quickly I noticed the potential to boost energy levels and get everyone out of their chair – not thinking about work for an hour a day. Where we work, we have some beautiful fields and public foot paths that lead to a large reservoir so walking is not just good exercise, but tranquil too.” Aharony said the results have been extraordinary.

“Instead of being glued to their desks and finding productivity dwindling at around 3pm, the walk re-energises each staff member, making sure they have the fuel to continue the day. The team even go as far as brainstorming subject ideas for clients whilst walking,” he said. “The best part about walk club is that we do it as a team. Whenever someone new joins the team, we always include them straight away in our walk club, and it becomes a nice way to socialise in the middle of the day.”

A space to unwind

Ipswich Building Society has also made strides in recent years when it comes to lunch. As explained by Joanne Leek, digital and campaign manager, the group, which has 130 staff in total, with 65 based at head office, has created a quiet room where staff can go and unwind. “We started it about four years ago and it came from a request from staff who found the existing staff room and kitchen just too noisy,” she stated. “The room was filled with comfortable chairs and sofas and encouraged staff to go there during their lunch break, or for a few minutes anytime during the day, to get away from their desks and wind down.”

Leek said the room, which has now moved to another location away from the main kitchen area, is used for people to read newspapers, books, study or even have a quick nap. “We’ve seen the development of a self-service library in there as well. It’s a dedicated space, which does not double as a meeting room, where staff just relax in peace,” she added. “There are no time restrictions. You can spend your whole lunch hour in there, taking a sandwich or drink in if you want. But we don’t really monitor how many people use it every day. The staff do make use of it though and appreciate it. They need to take time away from their desk. It leads to a much better working environment.”

Personal time

Jobs website CV-Library has taken a different approach to lunch benefits. It urges its employees to use their lunch break, and only their lunch break, to catch up on personal news and views on their mobiles and the internet.

“There are rules in place to help ensure that our team are ultra-productive and have a strong work-life balance. We ask our staff not to use their mobile phones and internet for personal use during work hours, but everyone has a set lunch break between 1pm and 2pm in which they can use it at their disposal. This has always been a rule I’ve enforced, and I believe it benefits both the business and the employees,” said Lee Biggins, founder and managing director. “This hasn’t been a hard rule to put in place. On the very rare occasion, you may have new members of staff who find it hard to adjust. Especially nowadays when our mobiles can feel like they’re permanently glued to our hands – it can be weird to suddenly ignore your phone for four hours. But once they get on board, many find it’s actually very freeing and ensures that they aren’t distracted by the likes of Facebook or WhatsApp during working hours.”

He explained that it has been great for the business, with staff working at maximum productivity. “It also ensures that all employees are able to manage their workload and leave work on time every day,” he said.

Find out how three junior members of staff changed the way an employee rewards process worked.

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