Smoking at work leaves Non-Smokers fuming

I keep being asked about what I think regarding smoking at work, I’m a dangerous “Reformed Smoker” of four years and it was only when my partner reminded me that stopping for a month or a year, wasn’t “actually” stopping. Apart from seeing people killing themselves and stood shivering and huddled outside buildings, I was reminded that there is not one good reasion to smoke.. I stopped… then and there.

Smoke-free legislation was introduced in England in 2007, banning smoking in nearly all enclosed workplaces and public spaces, following similar bans in Scotland and Wales, hence the onset of the street dwellers and door huggers which we have all become accustomed to in our workplaces.

Every company must have a smoking policy, which outlines various considerations to those non-smokers who do not wish to inhale tobacco and an appointed area for smokers.

Smoking has always been a taboo subject with smokers being fiercely protective of their right to smoke at work and most non-smokers being completely against this during the working day.

So what really is fair?

According to a study for the British Heart Foundation, smoking breaks cost British businesses £8.4bn a year in lost productivity, as smokers disappear for 10 minutes at a time, four times a day on average.

Smokers insist they use these break to catch up on work related topics, discuss points from a meeting and make decisions about work. This can also be an opportunity for employees to socialise and discuss work topics and what they’ve been doing. This is seen as acceptable by smokers because they have an opportunity to catch up whilst on their smoking break, so they are less likely to wonder around the office like other employees to socialise in work time.

Can having a smoking break be classed as being productive?

Smokers insist without these breaks they would not of found the time to discuss any these actions with the relevant person. When smokers are allowed to smoke they assume they are more productive by having their nicotine fix which gives them better concentration levels. They promote the fact that by having a smoking break it is better for them as it eases work related stress and makes them feel calmer, which is a contradiction in itself about the health implications of smoking against the stress relieving factor.

Legally, employers are not obligated to allow employees to take any smoking breaks at all, although employees working a shift of six hours or more are entitled to a 20-minute uninterrupted rest break.

Don’t get in a puff?

Non-smokers often feel they have the raw deal, as they are the ones left sat at their desk continuing to work while their smoking co-workers take additional breaks. They feel excluded from conversations and yearn to be part of the discussions, which take place in the smoking gang. Decisions can often be made without consultation with other employees who feel they should have been involved but weren’t as they were not outside in that moment. This can lead to employees feeling compelled to be part of this group especially if senior members of the company are joining these breaks.

Many non-smoking employees have the assumption that they are picking up the slack of their co-workers whilst they are on the smoking breaks and feel this is unfair. They believe that they should be awarded extra break time to account for the time co-workers take in addition to their normal break times.

This is no Smoke!

So how can employers manage this to create a good balance in the workplace? Consultation with employees is the best route, asking both parties what they feel would be fair. Alternatively, you may ask that those who take time during the day for a smoking break to make the time up later in the day. Or to fully even out the entitlement, allowing all staff a five-minute break whether they smoke or not. It’s commonly thought that stepping away from your workstation for a short time can be very productive for employees.

Can you honestly say you haven’t checked your Facebook profile, had a quick read of the latest news on the web, composed a Tweet? Whilst the smokers were out on their break?

As humans we all have our own choices. It’s human nature to want to feel a sense of belonging, which is why businesses must ensure smokers and non-smokers are engaged with company decisions and the policy reflects a fair approach to both parties.

Every employee has the right to smoke or not to smoke and both parties must be respectful of those choices.

by Craig Burton