If employees sitting at desks eating supermarket meal deals is a familiar sight to you as a small business owner, it might be time to ring the changes and start reinventing the lunch hour.
According to one study, by the National Charity Partnership, under a third of UK workers take a lunch break away from their desk and venture outside for fresh air.
Employees cited high workloads and stress levels as the reasons they stayed indoors, while one in eight said their company’s workplace culture promoted “al-desko” lunches.
Extra hours at work stations might sound beneficial, but your over-committed staff are likely to be doing the company more harm than good. The same study claimed 90 per cent of workers said making the most of their lunch hour made them “happier and more positive”.
As an employer, encouraging staff to take advantage of their hour break can boost concentration for the afternoon and increase workplace morale.
To find out more about the innovative ways small companies are reinventing the lunch hour, Business Advice visited three founders each incorporating fresh ideas.
The walk club
Shai Aharony, co-founder and managing director of Reboot Online Marketing, a digital agency specialising in searches in high-competition sectors, introduced an open-invitation “walk club” into his company.
“I am a huge advocate of encouraging employees to get away from their desks during the lunch-hour. To practise what I preach, I decided to create a company walk club,” Aharony told Business Advice.
“A walk club whereby any employee that wanted to could join me for a daily half-hour walk during lunch. Initially, I thought interest would be low, but it’s been surprisingly successful. Most days, we have a full-house, employees love getting some fresh air and interacting with each other on all matters but work.”
It’s perhaps no surprise employees appreciated the change of surroundings, but what about the tangible benefits?
“The walk club has noticeably boosted everyone’s post-lunch concentration as well as productively levels,” Aharony added.
“But more importantly, for me, it’s positively improved team chemistry and contributed towards a more enjoyable working environment”.
Stepping things up a gear, Andrew Halliday founder of SEO agency Indago Media, noticed his out-of-hours training for a charity marathon was having a positive impact on his energy and concentration levels. He decided his workforce could also benefit.
“Now, twice a week as a team we go for up to a five-mile run – nothing close to world record-breaking, we run at the pace of the slowest person. We get out and just talk and enjoy the fresh air.”
Halliday explained the nature of conversation was naturally more personal than work-orientated. “It’s a longer conversation than what you would have over making a cup of tea, the team has bonded more together,” he said.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed, and it really stood out in a meeting this morning, is there is a closer bond between people.
“Now, people are more confident giving ideas in brain-storming sessions or raising their hand and saying ‘I disagree’ because of it. Once you see someone fall over and face-plant the ground, what’s the worst you can say in a meeting?”
For the days the team aren’t running, Halliday introduced a second initiative to make the most of break times.
“We watch a video together, whether it’s educational, a round-up, a new feature release or a training video,” he said.
“I found that we were all watching the same stuff but at separate times. Then, some of us would be discussing it, and others couldn’t join in, or they would miss it altogether.”
Now, Halliday’s team can watch important videos as they eat in a more casual environment. It’s been especially beneficial to junior staff members, who have a chance to pause and understand why a topic relates to a particular client without fear of interrupting a strict, allotted session.
He added: “Anyone can choose the video, and we also have a shared Google Doc whereby someone can suggest something they think would be useful for the team.”
“We started meditating in September 2016. Since then, our lunch break habits have changed dramatically,” she explained.
A recent study on Vedic meditation – the model used by Will Williams – by American psychologist confirmed its energy-boosting qualities, while Scientific American proved it could reduce anxiety by up to a third.
In Field’s experience, reinventing the lunch hour through a daily meditation session has delivered a culture shift in an industry not known for its tranquility.
“We used to be typical PRs, rushing to Pret a Manger and wolfing down a sandwich at the desk – that was lunch,” she said.
“Now, every day around midday we go into a meeting room and meditate for twenty minutes. It has really revolutionised the way we work together, our stress levels and our productivity in the afternoon – to the point where clients have commented on it.”
Elaborating on the benefits of lunchtime meditation, Field said there were four major changes she has observed – a decrase in stress, improved focus levels, better decision making and more general brain power.
Something for the busy business owner
Keeping staff motivated and engaged is central to maintaining a productive workforce. However, as the leader of an ambitious company, it’s equally vital to look after your own health.
It’s no secret the stresses of running a small company can take a toll on Britain’s small business owners. New founders in particular have struggled to strike a healthy work-life balance, working an extra 20 hours a week than regular employees.
Here, we’ve offered some final points for solo business leaders to incorporate into their own routine.
Schedule the hour in your calendar
Putting a fixed hour block into your calendar every day should be your starting point. Do your best to enforce this designated time, and move meetings around it when possible.
Making the commitment each day will soon integrate the lunch hour as an important part of your routine.
The healing properties of music
Music is scientifically proven to have a direct impact on our emotions. It provides an instant escape and allows you to approach a problem with a fresh mind.
Whether you enjoy calming classical music or more energising electronic sounds, stress reduction through music will increase your overall output.
Modern technology has made everyone a photographer. Today’s iPhone and Samsung cameras carry around 12 megapixels and are reasonably competent digital cameras, especially for the everyday amateur.
Taking photos has been found to improve mental health, but it also encourages you to head outside and look at familiar places from a different perspective.
For further ideas on bringing a culture change to your company, try reinventing the lunch hour through competitive workplace sports
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