Just for Fun

Global survey reveals countries with the longest lunch breaks

Joseph Patterson | March 22, 2019
Unlike in the United States where lunches are often microwaved and eaten quickly at our desks (or, even worse, in our cars), many parts of the world view the lunch break as a valuable part of the workday and a time to relax and re-energize. Calculating an employees lunch break is relivtely easy and was esstential for this article. According to a recent lunch break survey of employees across 27 countries, a few nations clocked longer lunch breaks than the global 35-minute average.Here are the top five countries that relish long lunch breaks.

Brazil: 48 minutes

Employees in Brazil take lunch breaks very seriously. Because it’s often hot in the middle of the day (especially in the northern part of the country), people don’t rush to eat the most social meal of the day. They go out to eat a plate of beans, rice, and meat or fish, followed by a sugary shot of espresso. In some regions, cities all but shut down around midday so that everyone has time to go home and cool off.  

Malaysia: 47 minutes 

In Malaysia, an hour-long lunch break is standard, and dining out is inexpensive and convenient. Since most of the workforce in Malaysia consists of salaried employees, an hour is considered an appropriate amount of time to go outside, have a bite to eat, and come back refreshed. Temperatures usually sit around the mid-80s in Malaysia, so as workers grab a roti and curry, nasi lemak (Malay coconut rice), or noodle soup, they enjoy a seat under the mist on a restaurant patio to cool down before heading back to the grind.  

Singapore: 47 minutes

In Singapore, lunch is just one small part of a world-renowned food culture that’s as flavorful as it is diverse. While Singaporeans might eat many small meals throughout the day, they also like to take a long lunch away from the office with friends and co-workers. “Lunch is most often a communal activity,” according to an article in Forbes. Singaporean workers use lunch breaks as a time to socialize and choose from an endless array of dishes, from Indian curries and Indonesian satays to Hokkien mee noodles with spicy sambal.  

Japan: 46 minutes

Japan often gets a bad rap for working excessive overtime, with the most extreme result being karoshi, or “death by overwork.” But much like the dedication to the job (or maybe because of it?), Japanese people seem to take lunch breaks seriously, too. Workers in Japan take an average of 46 minutes every workday to eat—sometimes at home, sometimes at work—and catch a second wind. If people in Japan aren’t eating a meal packed from home, employees eat at convenient restaurants, cafes, and food courts selling boxed lunches. As Japan moves away from overwork, it will be interesting to see if the culture of the relaxed lunch break stays the same.  

Portugal: 44 minutes

Portuguese people do not observe a siesta but do take time for a relaxing lunch break. Having a mix of meat and fish, stews, and rice, workers in Portugal will leave workstations sometime between noon and 2 p.m. to take an average of 44 minutes to eat and unwind. This is well above the 33-minute average break taken by the 10 European nations surveyed and a far cry from 19-minute average reported in Greece.  

South Korea: 43 minutes

In SoKo, it is common to say “hello” or “how are you,” followed by “have you eaten?” This may seem odd to outsiders, but it epitomizes how food and eating are so ingrained in the nation’s culture that it has become a form of greeting. It is perhaps no surprise that South Korea ranked among nations with the longest lunch break duration in TSheets’ global survey, doubling the 19-minute average in Greece, and almost 15 minutes longer than the averages in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. 

France: 39 minutes

If you ever plan a trip to France, you’ll notice a ubiquitous tip: Attractions and restaurants may close for lunch. Meals have always been sacred in France, and it appears the French continue to hold to this tradition. With lunch being the main deal of the day, France comes in second in a global lunch break survey among European nations at 39 minutes, trailing behind Portugal’s 44 minutes.  

Ireland: 38 minutes

While traditional Irish food pays homage to its past, Dublin, in particular, has become a vibrant food city in the past decade, providing an abundant variety for those working in it. In a 2016 census, the average commute in Ireland’s capital was less than 30 minutes, compared to London’s 84. Perhaps the easy access is also allowing employees to truly disconnect during their lunch hour, whether they’ve got gastropub menus or budget eats in mind for their midday break.  

Sweden: 38 minutes

The Swedes are known for taking up to five weeks off in the summer to travel every year. Ranked third in a global lunch break duration survey among its EU peers, it’s probably fair to say the Swedes would apply the same freedom to their lunch break at work. While Swedish law requires most schools to provide free lunch for students, employees do not get the same privilege. However, there are abundant restaurants with affordable lunch specials (coffee is typically free at restaurants) for the midday repast.

Taiwan: 37 minutes

Known to foodies for being a street food haven, Taiwan’s culinary experience is, in short, a way of life. For those working in Taiwan, the most common office lunch is biandang, or boxed lunches consisting of rice, with accompanying dishes of your choice. Biandang is so prevalent that various websites update lists annually with pricing, locations, and variety. Perhaps because the boxed lunches are so readily available, the average duration among Taiwanese employees is just 37 minutes, the shortest among Asian countries.

United States: 36 minutes

For one man working in the Bay Area, his daily “super commute” is eight hours long, where he covers 240 miles to avoid the San Francisco rent. While his case is extreme, it’s a stark reminder of how Americans are working longer and resting less during weekdays. It is therefore surprising to see the U.S. at number 11 on the global lunch break survey. Employees admit if they had a longer lunch break, they would use it to run errands instead of resting, which is what the break is for.

Kenya: 36 minutes

In 2017, Nairobi had the worst traffic in all of Africa and was fifth in the world. The average morning commute took around 62 minutes. Because of this, workers often skip breakfast to make sure they get to work on time. But fret not. They make it up by getting out of the office during lunch, typically going out in groups with co-workers. Common fares include fish with ugali (cornmeal porridge) and goat tripe stew.

United Kingdom: 35 minutes

In drilling down the data from a separate U.K. lunch break survey, it was found that there is only 60% compliance among employers in providing legally required rest breaks for employees. For employees who do get a lunch break, sandwiches reign supreme. When it comes to spending, 44% of U.K. workers say they typically spend £3 or less, which was the most affordable option given in the survey.  

Italy: 35 minutes

Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan famously wrote food in Italy is “twice blessed because it is the product of two arts, the art of cooking and the art of eating.” At first glance, the relatively short lunch break reflected in TSheets’ global lunch break survey doesn’t quite corroborate with this. However, a quick search will reveal almost all businesses and attractions will close for lunch for one to three hours, proving the midday meal is still very much a way of life.

Russia: 35 minutes

Lunch is considered the main meal is Russia, typically taking place between noon and 3 PM. It is not necessarily a social affair, so it’s perfectly normal to see lone diners. Many businesses also have cafeterias that offer affordable options for workers. “Business lunch” is a notable cultural nuance that does not mean a group having a meal while working. Instead, it’s restaurants offering a limited selection of a two- or three-course meal during the lunch hours. Patrons are served quickly and not expected to linger after they’re done.

Canada: 34 minutes

Compared to their neighbors to the South, Canadians clock fewer work hours overall, with 1,702 per year compared to 1,787 in the United States and 2,250 in Mexico. And for every five hours of work, employees in Canada are meant to receive a 30-minute meal break. However, according to the TSheets lunch break survey, “The number of workers who don’t get a lunch break in Canada is five times higher than the U.S., but the distribution between those with 60 minutes or more are almost identical.” It’s also common for Canadians to regularly go out to eat for lunch if they don’t succumb to eating at their desks. So what do Canadians have for lunch? Sandwiches, salads, pasta, pizza, and fast food are common.

South Africa: 31 minutes

While most South Africans are given between 30 minutes and an hour to eat lunch, the average lunch break is around 31 minutes. And many aren’t leaving their workstations to eat. A separate survey found that 67% of South Africans eat at their desks. What meals do South Africans prefer? Many bring food from home or grab a salad or sandwich. For a more hearty, traditional meal, South African workers might be found chowing on some bunny chow (Durban curry served in a bread bowl) or a braai (South African barbecue) or potjiekos (hot pot stew).

India: 31 minutes

India’s class stratification is such that defining their lunch culture isn’t easy. Add to that a population of over one billion people, and the definition gets even more convoluted. That said, an average office worker in a large city like Mumbai might avoid the traffic and opt for eating at work, while those who do brave the crowds might grab street food like pav bhaji, a blend of potatoes and tomatoes served with bread, crispy duck fry, or dosa.

Germany: 31 minutes

The average German worker takes just over a half hour lunch break. But Germans purportedly do not have the “sad desk lunch” that is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in other office environments around the globe. To be sure, it could almost be construed as a faux pas not to stand from your desk and eat with the others. Best be punctual and head to the nearest cafeteria with colleagues for a prompt currywurst before returning to the grind.

Australia: 31 minutes

It’s said that Australian lunches are getting shorter, and many Aussies are beginning to eat at their desks. If packed from home, an Australian’s lunch might consist of a sandwich (vegemite, anyone?) or salad packed with fresh vegetables. Takeout or delivery could draw from the nation’s culturally rich offerings, including dishes like pad thai, curry, or pizza.

Ghana: 30 min

For the many workers in Ghana, lunch breaks take place around noon when peers join one another for a 30-minute break. Since bosses and their subordinates don’t typically socialize together, colleagues of similar age and status in the company can be found eating beans and rice dishes (waakye) or fermented maize dumplings, called ga kenkey, alongside fish or stew.

Mexico: 30 minutes

Mexico is the country that consistently holds the top spot on the Organization for Economic Co-ordination and Development’s list of average annual hours actually worked per worker. And for an average of about a half hour, Mexican employees will enjoy a break from work and clock out for la comida, the biggest meal of the day. While comida corrida shops open from 1 PM to 4 PM to serve a set course, affordable meals like soup, tortillas, meat, and beans. While it’s typically acceptable to take longer breaks, traffic in places like Mexico City, combined with increasingly fast-paced business lifestyle could be why lunches aren’t much longer than in other North American countries.

New Zealand: 30 minutes

The Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018 was passed in December last year, which gives workers two 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch for eight hours of work. Up until this recent change, employees were expected to work out their rest and meal breaks with their employers. A New Zealand health insurer called Southern Cross Health Society started a campaign to change the desk lunch trend, presenting their finding that a third of office workers admitted to eating lunch at their desks. What’s typically on the menu? Lighter lunches are common. Kiwis will often reach for a hot pie, sandwich, or salad for their mid-day meal.

Costa Rica: 29 minutes

Coming in at just under 30 minutes is Costa Rica, a country reported to be one of the hardest working nations in the world. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, they work 2,112 hours per year, second only to Mexico where workers put in an average of 2,255 hours per year. While you’d think long hours could be associated with longer lunch breaks, Costa Ricans take a breather with a plate of gallo pinto before returning to work. The hot climate means fresh fruit and refrescos, or smoothies, are also popular at lunchtime.

Spain: 28 minutes

In the home of the famous and nearly lost tradition of the siesta, many Spaniards still take late and lengthy lunch breaks. But as the competition in big cities across Europe rams up the demand for longer hours, people are beginning to take shorter breaks. The tradition has also been eliminated for government employees, who, since 2006, are only allowed a one-hour break. While people in smaller towns might take a couple of hours off in the middle of their shift, busy employees in the city could be skewing the lunch break duration average to under a half hour. Spaniards enjoy a typical meal of several courses, like salad followed by meat or fish, with a sweet dessert or coffee to finish.

Poland: 24 minutes

It’s common to pack a lunch in Poland, and workers are typically allowed an hourlong unpaid break. But according to an article in businessculture.org, high levels of unemployment mean the pressure is on for employees who do work, and most employees do not take a lunch break at all. Instead, many people will eat a small meal early in the day and wait until they get home to eat. This could explain the shorter lunch break average of only 24 minutes. When Polish people do have a break, it’s not uncommon to find workers eating a fast plate of pierogies, European dumplings with various fillings like potato, meat, or cheese.

Greece: 19 minutes

Workers in Greece still live amid economic instability since the start of the Greek Debt Crisis. In Greece, there remains an 18.5% unemployment rate, which, when coupled with long commute times, could be why Greek workers are not taking the long lunch breaks for which they’ve historically been famous. Greece reported an average of just 19 minutes for lunch during work hours. When it is time for lunch, though, Greeks are quick to grab small plates, or meze, filled with fresh olives, veggies, feta cheese, and tzatziki.While many countries take longer breaks than folks in the U.S., four out of the six countries with the longest lunch breaks are in Asia: Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Singapore. What could we learn about our habits here in the U.S. by looking at countries where sanctity is placed on a more leisurely lunch?
A little about Joseph Patterson

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