Is lunch only for wimps or should it be sacrosanct and reclaimed?

Most of us no longer take an hour’s break at lunchtime - we don’t seem to be able to chill for 60 minutes, says Colette Sheridan
Is lunch only for wimps or should it be sacrosanct and reclaimed?

Michael Douglas as the ruthless wheeler-dealer Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, who famously said lunch was “for wimps”

ARE you a martyr to your job? Do you think lunch is a waste of time?

Do you agree with Gordon Gekko, who famously said in the 1987 movie Wall Street that “Lunch is for wimps?”

Back then, the lunch hour was sacrosanct. Most people went out every working day to eat with friends or colleagues.

But over the years, that clock- watcher’s dream - a whole hour away from the office in the middle of the day - has taken a bit of a nose-dive.

New research has shown that the average worker’s midday break has been shortened to 29 minutes. And during that time, a third of them still respond to messages, with 17% saying they had been criticised by their managers for not responding promptly during lunchtime.

That just can’t be good for digestion. Or morale. Who wants that level of connectivity with their boss when trying to grab a sandwich?

Some 29% of the survey respondents said they replied more quickly to messages while working from home to avoid accusations that they were slacking off.

While the survey was carried out in the UK, it applies here as well. Most of us no longer take an hour’s break at lunchtime, unless it’s to run around town doing errands and shopping. We don’t seem to be able to chill for 60 minutes.

More than a third of respondents to the survey said they didn’t have enough time to take a full hour out of their busy schedule.

Blame it on technology. There are constant messages, emails and other notifications to be replied to. Some people never get to switch off.

When asked how long their lunch breaks are now compared to before the pandemic, 25% said they are shorter. Of those, 33% said that’s because their managers are more demanding.

So much for the pandemic making us reassess our lives and prioritise what’s important, like positive mental health and having time to smell the roses.

However, some people might look as if they’re working at the desk during lunch hour but are in fact scrolling through Facebook. But they still have that busy, busy air about them. What is it with this need to be seen to be productive all the time?

As someone who works from home and has hardly met anyone for lunch during the pandemic, I don’t take much of a lunch break. But that’s not due to a high level of industriousness. Rather, it’s with an eye to finishing work earlier than most office workers and going out for a therapeutic walk.

Some of us are old enough to remember going for boozy lunches. On a course in London in the 1990s, we would go to the local pub for lunch - and a couple of drinks. This made me woozy and it gave me the lip for more beer.

I was always amazed at how the Brits were able to put away two pints and a pie without feeling the need to go on the lash. I, on the other hand, used to feel like throwing caution to the wind. That’s one of the reasons why I gave up drink.

Do the Brits still have a snifter or two at lunchtime? Hardly, if the 29-minute lunch break survey is anything to go by. You’d barely sink a glass of pale ale and a sandwich in that time.

But in Spain, away from the big cities, lunch (la comida) is the largest meal of the day, involving a number of courses and wine.

Like the Italians, Spaniards take leisurely meals, which is why lunch can take at least an hour and a half - followed by a siesta.

Traditionally, they take a two or three-hour break from work or school. It seems crazy. Us Irish would only be fit for staying on in the leaba after a substantial meal and vino.

But the siesta goes back centuries, from the days when most people worked in agriculture and there was no such thing as air conditioning. The Spaniards needed the sustenance from a large meal as well as a rest from the hot sun before resuming work.

Most Spaniards still enjoy a break in the middle of the day and a large meal. But in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, many people commute for more than an hour, getting to and from work.

It’s just not feasible to go home for lunch and a siesta. As a result, Spanish government employees in Madrid now work a standard eight-hour day with a one-hour lunch break.

Most large supermarkets and retail chains in big cities don’t close for lunch any more in Spain. But most small shops still close for the traditional break and don’t re-open until late in the afternoon.

It’s a wonder the country has a functioning economy.

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