Recently I was asked by an HR Daily subscriber for some information about how to manage employee smoke breaks, and I thought this might be a good topic to put out to the HR Daily Community as our first forum question.
So, to flesh out an upcoming article, I'd appreciate knowing:
The more detail you can provide, the better, although I may get in touch for some further quotes.
Thanks in advance for your help!
Jo, this is a very vexed question I think, and I've taken a few days to mull over it! Something so traditional and innocent sounding like "a smoko" has become loaded with so many complex overlays of health, fairness, human & worker's rights, social acceptablity and social conscience...
It's a great topic to begin with, and I hope some others will do a better job at head-scratching than I have done so far!
Thanks for at least getting things started, Lynette! I will keep hoping that someone has some sort of (formal or informal) policy or practice in place.
Even if you have no set way of managing it, I would still be keen to hear from anyone for whom this is an issue at work...
Thanks Michael. I know this can be a very divisive workplace issue.
I guess the line that needs to be toed is that between the productivity losses resulting from smoke breaks, and those that would come as a result of workers sitting angrily at their desks as they suffer withdrawal symptoms.
Would anyone else like to add their two cents? I'm particularly keen to hear from anyone who has implemented a new or updated policy on this, and what the outcome was.
I work for an organisation that has pained over this for years. Drawing the line is very difficult, especially when you have senior managers that are heavy smokers - other employees see this as an example being set for them. In saying that, the senior manager that smokes heavily also works a lot of overtime that more than compensates for the time she uses as smoke breaks. Some smokers feel that they are being discriminated against if managers try to address the issue, but it seems that the tables have turned and the non smokers are the ones feeling that they get the rough deal. Imagine if non smokers did just go outside and stand around for 10 mins, 4-5 times a day and just do nothing - its still stress relief - but it would be viewed very differently. I did an assessment of one team in particular, in the time that they spent under the "smoking" tree was equivalent to a full years salary of one of resource @ $50K per year. One view was that, allowing smoke breaks keep the staff happy and stress free, making them more productive - not considering the loss of production due to the breaks. tough call.
Thanks Rhonda. I might combine your comments with Michael's in an article. I appreciate your input.
Jo, after you first posed this question last year, we had a big chat about it in our office.
The consensus was that given the known health risks, employers couldn't possibly risk the possible legal implications of being seen to support or allow smoking in any way.
In practice, this would mean that smokers would have to make their own arrangements, and that the employer would neither allow "smoking" breaks, or even officially or unofficially acknowledge that smoking is what their employees are doing.
And I imagine that ethically employers have a duty of care which includes not encouraging or facilitating employees to harm themselves.
Thanks Lynette, I tend to agree. Scary to think that unions actually bargain for such a thing in agreements.
It's interesting that a growing number of employers in the US and Europe have policies against hiring people who smoke, where that practice clearly conflicts with the organisation's values (I'm thinking of the World Health Organisation, among others). I haven't heard of that happening here, yet.
This issue comes up often in the workplace normally when you get a heavy smoker joining the team. In my experience Managers leave the issue in the too hard basket particularly if they smoke themselves. Coming from Local Government the policy was for smokers to limit their breaks to the paid morning and afternoon tea breaks and the unpaid lunch break. This is acceptable when rate payers are paying your wage.
I now advise my small to medium business clients to have the arrangement set out in their employee handbook and if the smoking breaks become an issue, deal with them on an individual basis. This achieves a good flexible workplace as there is the expectation that work just gets done rather than clocking on and off.
Thanks Mandy - that's very helpful.
Isn’t it about balance? Most employees head off to the kitchen or a café for a coffee. How it is different if the employees goes for a smoke and has a coffee at the same time….without completing a time and motion study? Those that smoke here work longer than their core hours anyway.
For those employees that smoke, I arranged for some information to be sent to them from the QUIT campaign. They were appreciative and are genuinely trying to ‘give them up’. Maybe I’ll move them into the latte’ club.