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We are not robots…

WORRYING new research shows most full-time travel agents never take their full lunch hour and almost 15% work through without a break.
In a Travel Weekly survey of 400 agents, 62.5% of full-time respondents took less than an hour for lunch, with 22% taking 15 minutes to half an hour and 13.7% less than 15 minutes. Only 22% of full-timers took their full one-hour entitlement. The figure for part-time staff was 14%.

Even then, many staff admitted they do not take a lunch hour every day. Out of the full-time staff, only 37% took a lunch break five times a week. The biggest reason cited was being too busy, blamed by 68% of full-timers, with pressure at work next, blamed by 17%.

One counter clerk at one of the big four multiples said her company had fewer shop staff but agents are still expected to exceed last year’s targets, increasing pressure on individuals and making a 10-minute break “something of a luxury”.

She said: “Customer service is of prime importance but how can this be delivered to a high standard when staff are not getting proper breaks to leave the store for 10 minutes let alone half an hour? We are human beings not robots.”

In the survey, 34% of full-time staff said, compared to last year, they were under more pressure to work through lunch and 38% to work late.

The figures come as agencies are under increasing pressure to serve customers around the clock. However, bosses of high-street multiples said staff are encouraged to take a lunch break. First Choice retail trading director Cheryl Powell said: “We encourage staff to get out of the office, even if it’s busy. We have more staff than last year so I’d be disappointed if staff were not having a lunch hour. There are times when staff are busy and will rota lunches.”

First Choice allows staff to open shops half an hour later at 9.30am on Wednesdays – Wakey Wakey Wednesday – during quieter periods.

Powell added staff may feel more under pressure because head-office technology now means individuals’ performance can be more closely monitored. “There is nowhere to hide,” she said.

Thomas Cook said store managers are encouraged to create rosters to allow proper breaks. A spokeswoman said: “Thomas Cook sometimes recommends employees take their lunch hour split into two breaks in the morning and afternoon so clients are not left waiting during the lunchtime rush.”

A MyTravel spokeswoman said staff are all given an hour’s break, but added: “Sometimes people choose to take 15 minutes and have lunch when it’s quieter.”

Hays Travel managing director John Hays said the situation hadn’t changed for 25 years as shops try to offer the best service when customers come in. He added staff often work extra days in January and less in quiet times. “On a voluntary basis, we ask staff to work four days a week in November and December, on full pay, and six days in January when they can earn extra.”

A Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association spokeswoman said: “The industry needs to tackle this. Our concern is the impact on employees’ health.”

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