A recent survey has shown that many employees are working over an additional week per year unpaid, due to not taking their full entitlement of rest breaks. The study showed that 36% of employees were regularly missing out on their rest breaks. Taking an average salary, over a span of 40 years, this was calculated as an employee doing unpaid work amounting to £30,862!

Break time concept with classic alarm clock

So what is a rest break, why are they important, and how can you ensure compliance as an employer?

A rest break is more commonly referred to as a lunch break.  Traditionally, for a full-time employee, these used to be contracted at one hour.  Research has now shown that the time an employee actually takes for a rest/lunch break is reducing year upon year, and on average if an employee takes a lunch break at all, it is now for less than 30 minutes.

What does the law say on this?  The UK working time regulations state that if an employee works more than 6 hours a day, then during the day they are entitled to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break.

An employer is not required to pay for this break but may choose to do so as an employee benefit and this will then be stipulated in the employment contract.

Furthermore, employers are allowed to stipulate when employees can take their rest breaks, on the condition that the break is taken in the middle of the day, that it is taken in one go, and that an employee is allowed to spend their break away from where they are working.

This changes slightly for young workers (classed between 16-17), who are entitled to a 30 minute rest break if they work over 4 and a half hours.

The reasons given during the survey by employees who were not taking either a rest break at all, or not a full rest break were varied.  Simply being too busy was a common response, but also the pressure of not wanting to take a break because colleagues were not taking a break, and trying to impress an employer were cited as reasons also.

As an employer, surely you gain from this news – you are getting extra hours from your staff without paying for them, so why would you enforce rest breaks?

Aside from the need to be legally compliant, there are a number of factors why it is important to take a rest break.  Studies have shown that heavy stressful workloads without breaks, can mean employees are less productive, and more likely to get sick, increasing absence levels.   Additionally, it means employees are more prone to making mistakes, and if these result in a case of negligence this can prove very costly to an employer.

Ultimately it is going to lead to an unhappy workforce with a high staff turnover ratio – and who would want that.  Year upon year research proves that well cared for employees equates to a unified and motivated team who will bring success to your business.

Being in an industry where you need to make an adequate provision of staff cover all day, the simplest way of ensuring that all employees are taking their full break entitlement, is through careful staff rota planning.  Reviewing the plan on a daily basis as a first priority, means that you will not get caught out by unexpected staff absence.

To go the extra mile, once a week/month etc, you could provide a healthy lunch for your team and bring them together as a motivational networking exercise.  You could also plan themed lunches to add some fun to the day!  Some moments of inspiration for your business can occur at these events.

There is no doubt that the workplace is an ever evolving environment, and much of this change is a positive step.  However some traditions are worth holding on to so when it comes to rest breaks, let’s use them and not lose them.

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Fiona Tyson

Operations Director

01509 833121


The Nursery HR People

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