Do Smoke Breaks at Work Help or Hinder Business Operations?

If you’re a business owner, then you know just how difficult it can be to get your workforce running smoothly and to the best of their ability. Every one of them has their own unique and complex needs which the responsible employer has a duty to attend to for the sake of morale and team spirit within the workplace as a social place as well as one of work.

So it stands to reason that in workplaces across the world, employers have different views on what constitutes acceptable opportunities for leisure. Some firms offer facilities such as an on-site gym, game equipment in the form of darts boards or ping pong tables, and even every now and again an office pet to bring a smile even in the most stressful times.

Yet each of those amenities listed above are primarily intended to be enjoyed as a break from the day-to-day grind. During scheduled work hours though it is expected that in return for such provision, employees will give their all and focus on the tasks set before them. Therefore for those workers looking for a frequent cigarette, this creates something of an issue.


The Issue of Smoke Breaks

From the point of view of many a disgruntled employer, staff constantly popping out for 5-10 minute breaks every few hours will really add up over time to a lot of working hours lost. Indeed in the UK a few years ago it was estimated that around £8.4 billion was lost per year to this habit. Yet for many, smoking remains a vital tool to cope with the stress that accompanies any job.

Therefore for those employees that may take frequent breaks yet work hard and to a high standard between smokes, restricting their activities could have a far from ideal effect. Given the craving generated by cigarettes, preventing smokers from taking in nicotine at a rate they are used to could very well cause their thinking to be clouded by thoughts of doing so. This would very much be part of a wider quantity vs quality debate, does more time behind a desk automatically equate to a more productive workforce? Or does their mood and feelings at such a certain time have more of a say in how they perform?

Alternatively there has also been a lot said about the impact smoke breaks have on non-smoking employees, many of which feel unfairly treated as they are not benefitting from these impromptu mini-breaks. If their colleagues are not only getting extra ‘down time’ but do not see their pay adjusted accordingly, then what motivation do they have to go that step further when it appears they are second-tier staff in terms of rewards?


Possible Solutions

Balancing the two groups of workers is therefore far from simple, especially as you want to avoid a scenario in which factions begin to form against each other. Fortunately though for the creative and determined manager, there are a number of solutions to control this issue and keep everyone motivated and on track.

If it appears that the smoking members of your workforce particularly rely on their smoking breaks, then the fairest solution would be to extend such time out to all staff members and provide non-smokers with the opportunity to take a similar amount of time out of each working day. This may handle the stress side of things though, but does little to address concerns to do with productivity.

Perhaps the best method therefore is as we mentioned earlier, flexible working hours. Implemented in this regard would allow smokers to have as many breaks as they want, so long as they add the time they use up on at the end of the day (or another time). This ensures they get to sate their appetite as needed whilst also ensuring that they end up doing just as much work as those who choose not to partake. Such a solution is also excellent for morale as it shows you trust your employees to know how to motivate themselves and take personal responsibility.

Ultimately there is no easy fix to such a tricky issue, as everyone will react differently to various approaches. Smoke breaks do help operations in so far as keeping smokers content whilst they work, but can be a hindrance if the lost time isn’t made up and if non-smokers feel slighted due to perceived favouritism. Balancing the two requires give and take on both sides, in order to find what solution accommodates everyone and can get the focus back on work and away from internal office politics. Some alternate methods of smoking have recently become prominent such as the e-cigarette first amongst them, but the best approach will no doubt combine internal and external company factors to produce the best results.



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