A survey entitled The Cost of Lunch Breaks has revealed that only one in three of South African employees take their full lunch break.

“The average South African works two-and-a-half years overtime during their lifetime due to unused lunch breaks. That amounts to a staggering R512 465 worth of free work and unnecessary time spent at their desks instead of taking a break,” says Odile Badenhorst, CareerJunction’s Communications Manager.

These estimates are based on a full-time work life from 18 to 65 years old with 260 working days in a year and StatsSA average monthly earnings paid to employees in the formal non-agricultural sector at R13 621 a month.

The research released on Monday was conducted among 3 000 working respondents suggests that more than a third of South Africans skip their lunch altogether two to four times per week.

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According to Badenhorst, in this fast-paced world of work, it’s a common and unhealthy mindset that the more hours we work with no break, the more we will be admired or rewarded.

When respondents asked how skipping their lunch breaks make them feel, most employees listed “unhappy”, “indifferent” and “stressed” as emotions that accompany them when working through their lunch breaks.

The research also showed that while the average lunch break allocated to employees is 60 minutes, the average time taken each day by South African employees is only 24,5 minutes.

Only 5% take their full 60 minutes and although over two-thirds say their employer encourages them to take lunch, 19% claimed they feel pressured not to take lunch, while 38% have too much work.

In fact, 73% of participants said the reason they skip their lunch break is because they have too much work to do or an unexpected task cropped up.

A large percentage, 67%, said they eat at their desks while working, with nearly 60% eating leftovers or a packed lunch.

Even though most workers have access to a full kitchen or seating area, many prefer to eat at their desks, with 45% saying they spend under R100 per week on lunch.

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Therefore, the fact that 57% of respondents said that the availability of amenities close to work – such as restaurants, shops, delis, convenience stores – has no impact on their choice of job application, makes sense when you look at the majority bringing lunch from home, or not taking lunch at all.

“While our research revealed that the majority of South African employees listed unexpected work responsibilities or too much work as reasons, other reasons included having to cover for others, sacrificing lunch breaks to leave work earlier, financial difficulties or simply not caring about lunch,” adds Badenhorst.