10 Oct 2017

Have the damn lunch break #WMHD17

Regent's Park, my lunch break

I read something a while ago from a guy who was moaning about millennials (that quota is now full, just so you’re aware) and their work ethics. Millennials are lazy, unmotivated, entitled, with dodgy values and priorities. They turn up to work and leave on time, they don’t check their work emails on the weekends, they take a FULL HOUR for their lunch break, and they don’t answer work calls outside of working hours. No mention of avocado, but almost a full house on my Millennials Bingo card, how about you?

It was slated, obviously, but it’s something I think about a lot, because I grew up surrounded by archaic work ethics that were drummed into me from childhood. I must work every day. I must say ‘yes’ and do as I’m told. I must never take a day off sick, I must not take all my annual leave, I must not moan about my pay or my workload. I must work overtime if it’s offered to me, I must be prepared to go above and beyond, I must be available outside of my working hours to show my dedication and flexibility. I must put as much money as I can into a pension, and I must work my way up the ladder until all that’s left is the empty drop at the top.

I felt I had to follow these rules in my very first job at 18 as a part-time checkout gal at an unnamed supermarket. I said ‘yes’ to any overtime offered to me and constantly offered to skip my breaks and carry on working if things were busy on the shop floor. Work always came first. My own health was in the reduced section. When I left university and started a temporary admin role, I refused to go to the toilet. Every day I would pray for a pre-work poo and not drink throughout the day so I wouldn’t need a wee. This was more down to anxiety - I was terrified of having to use the work toilets - but I was also terrified of leaving my desk and someone thinking I was skiving. I never went for walks or struck up conversations with colleagues in fear I’d be seen as distracting, and only went outside once when the weather was over 30C and being stuck in a room with no windows for eight hours became too much. I inevitably left work every day with banging headaches and dangerous stomach cramps, and was truly miserable. 

Neither of these experiences were the fault of the workplaces. I loved my first job and was incredibly thankful for the temporary opportunity. I just succumbed to the unhealthy values I thought were concrete and true, and also had crippling anxiety. A beautiful mix. A delicious concoction. Mmm, love that cocktail, is it Happy Hour? Can I double it? 

Today is World Mental Health Day and the theme this year is about workplace wellbeing. Caring for and prioritising your mental health at work can be tough; the extent to which you can look after your wellbeing will depend on your job, your hours, your physical place of work. I wish I could write a list of rules to abide by when it comes to your workplace mental health, and a list of tips, tricks, and advice for all on how to sustain a decent head during the weekly (or weekend) grind. But I can’t, so instead I just want to shout a bit about those archaic work ethics and how those millennial stereotypes are untrue and/or not negative in the first place. You bellends.

At my place of work, I turn up at roughly 09:15 in the mornings, and leave at 17:00 in the evenings. Between those hours, I get shit done. Outside of those hours, I do not. I do my very best to not check my emails. Working part-time, I often feel anxious on my days off, especially if I’m at home, about not knowing what’s happening in the office. Have I missed something? Am I trouble? Are they talking about me? Will I come back to surprises? I don’t know what’s going on, and I NEED TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON, DAMN IT. But I’m not contracted to work five days, so I will not work five days. Is that so unreasonable? The office will not fall apart without me and I will not be hated for not answering my emails on my days off. (Writing this down is very therapeutic.) 

I’m a hungry person. I am always hungry. Therefore, I am the person who eats their lunch before lunchtime. It’s a curse. I do eat my lunch at my desk which is often understandably bashed, but I’m too impatient to go elsewhere and it’s just easier. I’ll spend 10 minutes eating and catching up on YouTube at some point between 11:30 and 12, then I go outside for between 45mins to an hour. I’m strict on this. I go outside. Even if it’s raining, fuck it. I’ll go and walk for at least half an hour. I usually use the time to ring my mum for a catch up, or watch my Instagram stories or read. A part of me feels like I should just walk and listen to either my mum, podcasts, or Spotify, and use the time to not strain my eyes with a screen or reading, but while I’m not getting headaches, I’ll carry on. 

Why should I be labelled as lazy or entitled or unmotivated because I’m strict with my working and lunch hours? I get my work done. I just make sure I have a balance as well. I couldn’t get my work done efficiently, to deadlines, with effort, and at all if I didn’t feel in control and give myself decent wellbeing breaks. Having a decent structure ensures I get my shit done, as it will do for many others. And anyway, I need my weekends to fully commit to my existential crises. I don’t have time to carry on working. My life is not my career, and it being so is an ingrained lesson that I’m still trying to reverse. I get stuck in the rut of ‘my career success defines my worth’ which is dangerous bullshit. There is more to life. Yes, money is necessary and it DOES make you happier - fuck that noise of money not buying happiness when you’re struggling to pay rent - but you must look after yourself and know that you are always worth more than the career or job you have. I live mindfully (block me, just do it). I recognise my moods, I have my passions, I share my time between what I need to do and what I like to do. I take deep breaths. I remember what's important. I drink all the water, I notice if certain foods make me feel like shit, I get outside in the sun and fresh air (debatable in London but I’ll take what I’m given). I’ll book most of my annual leave as soon as January hits because yes I have already planned my holidays for the next year and figured out the best ways to utilise my leave to get the best time off. Because time off is ok, it’s necessary. Treat yourself. Go away. Stay in. Have a lie in. Book a last minute city break. Do nothing all week. Use your damn holiday.

Millennials are dealing with the most expensive, volatile, and depressing times. Wages aren’t rising with the cost of living, education is increasingly more stressful and expensive with no guarantee of decent jobs at the end of it all, our eyes and brain power can’t keep up with social media and technology in general, we struggle to pay for any insurance so there go our safety nets, we’re low-key aware that we’ll have to look after more and more older relatives as people are living longer, but we’re also pressured and expected to have our own families and careers and stick with them until we die. The least we can do is treat ourselves with an hour’s feckin’ lunch break. 


  1. *applause*

    I struggle with this so much, rarely leave the office at all during the day, and feel guilty on the one or two days a month that I do. It's not healthy, so keep going, learn this as routine and ALWAYS take a lunch break!

    1. It can be so hard to work on changing your natural feelings, but I really hope you can shift that guilty mindset! You're right, properly utilising your lunch break will soon become routine and you'll probably be surprised at how much of a difference it could make.

  2. It took me a long time to learn that lessson but I have finally stop comprising my health for my job. When I wa slooking for a job right after moving to the UK (I'm from Canada where we have a much better work/life balance in my opinion), one of my main criteria was that I didn't want to work on weekends and wanted regular (9-5) shift hours because routien helps me with my anxiety. I had a first bad experience where I was constantly asked why I didn't stay past 5.30 by my much older boss. It is not entitlement or lasiness... I cannot be productive at work if I'm constantly drained and anxious, it's the same for everyone! Thanks for this post and speaking up!

    1. Oh, I love Canada so much. I have family out there and really hope I can move over in the future, even just for a few years! I'm sorry you had a shitty experience with your boss but so glad you recognised that you're not doing anything wrong! I hope you have a better boss now and have a decent routine in place for your anxiety. <3