Cigarette breaks: How employers can cut back on this loss

Employee productivity is key to the success of any business, regardless of its size or the number of its workers. Every employee likes to be appreciated for the work and contributions they make to their employer, regardless of the odd time here and there where they fall victim to distraction, after all, we’re only human.

A quick Facebook update here, a Twitter forward there, or even getting up for a cup of tea, we are all guilty of the occasional work interruption. However small and insignificant these interruptions are, they do disrupt the work at hand, and employees must make sure they quickly get back to what they were hired to do, after cigarette breaks.

Cigarette breaks

However, there is one significant distraction that is a major concern for employers, and that is cigarette smoking. It is estimated that smoking costs British business approximately £8.4 billion a year. On average, it takes a smoker ten minutes from the time they go outside, light up, smoke, and dispose of the cigarette before returning to work. While ten minutes may not seem excessive, multiply this by the number of times per day this occurs and of course, over the course of a work week. Tallying it all up, an employee can easily miss a few hours of work due to their regular habit. From the perspective of the non-smoker, these breaks may appear to be unfair and unjustified.

While an employer may or may not agree with these regular smoking breaks, on the other hand, they are not in a position to enforce limitations on workplace breaks. For one thing, it may cause resentment among those who do smoke, particularly as smoking is an addiction and smokers need their fix to satisfy a craving. So, what alternatives do employers have?

Over the last few years, there has been one revolutionary technology which has changed smoking, for good. It’s the e-cigarette – a device that provides smokers their nicotine fix while filtering out the harsh and damaging chemicals found in regular cigarettes. The nicotine is delivered via a flavoured gel called an ‘e-liquid’ which is heated with the press of a button and deactivates just as quickly. In theory, this reduces the amount of time spent smoking as the entire process is quicker. As opposed to finding a sheltered spot to light up a cigarette, an e-cigarette smoker can simply press the button and inhale. This ensures staff can get back to work quicker than smoking traditional cigarettes.

Another possible option to consider, particularly if a large proportion of office staff are smokers, is to designate a time of the day as a mandatory office break period. This would ensure that all employees are offered a regular break time at a certain time of the day, without being discriminatory to those who do smoke. It would also ensure that all employees are where they should be, when they should be. The only drawback to this is it wouldn’t manage the issue of overall productivity, since it equates to time away from work as well, and therefore a decline in work-related efficiencies. Therefore, the best route to take is have workforce who do smoke record their smoke times and work-related absences. By doing so, any time lost through cigarette breaks can be added to their schedule to be made up, or they can simply choose to have a percentage of their pay waived to make up for time lost.

If this proves to be unpopular, which it likely will, it may be wise to have a discussion with the entire workforce and raise concerns there. By introducing the idea that cigarette breaks are allowed but must be offset against already scheduled breaks, such as lunchtime, there is a higher likelihood that smokers will refrain until that time. As any business owner knows, it is important to have open and frank discussion with employees to encourage team morale and collaboration, and this should be a regular fixture of any successful business.

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