How well do we really take care of our people, and does it even matter? The answer to the last part of that question ought to be obvious, and yet still it amazes me how people are treated at work.

In my previous life as a teacher (endless holidays, finishing every day at 3…) I went for a job at a London school for the role of Assistant Headteacher. I already had lengthy experience of working in East London schools, so knew the challenges and could confidently cope with them.

The deputy head, showing us around, spoke proudly of her walkie talkie, allowing her to be informed instantly of any incident during break or lunchtime, for which she was on duty every day. “So when do you eat?” I asked, naively. She looked at me as though I’d asked her if the world was flat. “We don’t eat, we’re too busy!” she extolled, as though it were a source of pride.

That’s commonplace in schools now, of course, but in other industries, how many of you take your lunch at your desk, whilst continuing with your work? And how many of you, despite doing that, start and finish at the normal time?

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with instructions on how to be more healthy. A ‘quiet’ run now means only coming across 20 fellow amateur athletes plodding and wheezing their way around the local park. Far fewer people smoke, we drink less, do more exercise, count calories, water intake, steps…

And yet how many of us get a break for lunch? Or even a morning break? I remember walking off the end of a production line on a night shift at a sandwich factory because the supervisor refused to give us a break. I was a student, grabbing a few extra quid in my Easter break; for others, it was their livelihood and they daren’t speak up. The supervisor wasn’t best pleased with countless sandwiches falling off the conveyor belt into the bin but, after being hauled into the boss’s office the next day, I kept my job.

As a ‘professional’, it seems to be the given that ‘breaks’ are a luxury, not an entitlement.

Which brings me back to the title of this piece. I could be writing about organising yoga or massage sessions for your team; free lunches like they have at Google; and every boss loves the topic of flexible hours… But actually, the opportunity to go for a walk at lunchtimes works wonders for those stuck in an office all day. Taking coffee away from your computer without furtively glancing over your shoulder to see if your manager is coming would relieve no end of stress.

They cost nothing, and yet could have so much positive impact on employee wellbeing and therefore output.

Even better, how often do we ask our people what they’d like, and really listen to what they say? At PDW Group, we offer bespoke people engagement surveys that allow you to really drill down into what members of your organisation truly value. 

And in the meantime, why not set an example and take a break yourself? It’s far easier for everyone else to step away from their desks if they see the boss doing it…