Long hours and lost lunch breaks

Should I stay or should I go- (2)I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while.  I came across a survey conducted by AXA PPP recently, which highlights the problem of an embedded culture of long hours and lost lunch breaks amongst the UK’s small and medium-sized companies (and having worked at more than one multi-national, I think the results probably extend to these giants too).

The survey shows that half the people questioned regularly worked overtime, often unpaid.  A fifth took less than thirty minutes for lunch (and there was a small proportion that missed lunch altogether). Employees are missing lunch, missing time with family and friends, missing important events in their children’s lives and missing our on their evenings as they pick up their laptops instead of winding down and relaxing.

Unsurprisingly, all of this puts more stress and strain on us, and this in turn can affect our health and well-being.

I know from personal experience that it’s really hard to be the one heading home on time when your colleagues are all staying late.  It can make you feel as though you’re somehow shirking your fair share of the work, even though that’s patently not true.  And whilst your employer may be very appreciative of your dedication and long hours, they will never be able to compensate you for the time, the pleasure, the relaxation, the life that you’re missing out on by staying a few hours or by skipping lunch.

But what can you actually do about it?  I’m going to be honest here.  I’m not sure.  I can only tell you what I did, and why.

I chose two different paths at two different points in my career.

Early on, I chose to stay and do the long hours.  I skipped lunches, I cancelled nights out with friends, I stayed at work until after the cleaners had been and gone.  I wasn’t the only one, I was young and didn’t have any commitments, and I have no doubt it helped my profile.

In the last few years I’ve chosen not to work so long.  I still work hard, I am efficient, I stay if absolutely necessary.  But I make sure I take at least a half hour lunch break, and I don’t stay behind as par for the course.  I have commitments – I have a pooch to get home to and a life to live beyond work.  I know that if I was in a permanent position, this would probably limit my career options.  As it is, I’m a contractor, so it’s not quite so bad.  And it’s a choice.  My choice.

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