By Daniel Hunter

Office workers are being encouraged to take a full hour for their lunch break, with new research showing that those who don't work slower and less accurately in the afternoon.

Findings by a UK-based Air Conditioning installation and servicing company show that people who eat away from their desk also tend to mix more with their colleagues, creating a friendlier working environment.

While people who take lunch at their desks think they're "getting things done" through not taking a break, AirConUK.co.uk's research shows that they lose mental sharpness and are more inclined to make simple mistakes.

"There's an awful lot of data about the importance of the lunch break," said AirConUK.co.uk's Jonathan Ratcliffe. "so we decided to go out and ask workers about their own experiences."

AirConUK.co.uk spoke to over 1350 workers in both office and industrial environments, and found:

- 23% ate their lunch at their desks or work stations
- 18% didn't take a lunch break at all
- 36% took less than their allotted time for lunch
- Only 23% took their allotted lunch break (or longer)

Four in ten (41%) said they didn't take permitted tea or screen breaks during the day; while 28% said they "felt resentful" of smokers who took multiple breaks during the day to have a cigarette.

"Scale that up, and there must be millions of workers who don't take a proper lunch break," Mr Ratcliffe said.

Workers who didn't take lunch breaks told AirConUK.co.uk gave reasons such as "I've got too much work to do", "the boss guilt-tripped me into working harder", "I don't get on with my co-workers, I'd rather not eat with them" and "there's nothing to do round here. Might as well sit at my desk".

Pairing workers with similar tasks found that those who took an hour away from work during the day were more productive and made fewer mistakes than those who did not. Work diaries showed an average of 10% more productivity, and 12% fewer errors. One worker even forgot to fill out his survey work diary in the afternoons because he was "too tired, too distracted to remember".

"I started taking lunch for the first time in ages recently... I've been at this company for six years, and now I'm on regular speaking terms with people I hardly knew," one worker said.

Another said: "We've been urged to work through our breaks for 'the good of the company', and at the end of the day I'm always exhausted and hate my job. Surely that's not legal?"

AirConUK.co.uk said: "You're legally entitled to it... Go out and claim what's yours."