By | Gary Bury | Co-founder and CEO of Timetastic
If you ask a group of friends this question, you’ll soon find out who’s a smoker and who isn’t. It’s a highly emotional topic based on opinion rather than fact, and there’s no definitive answer.
It’s worth discussing, though. Non-smokers can be pretty annoyed seeing their coworkers get extra breaks throughout the day, but smokers usually have a different take on it.
Should these breaks be banned?
Firstly, you can’t ban people from smoking (at least, outside the office). If they want to go outside for a quick five minute smoke in their own break time, that’s their choice. The fact that they can go outside the office facility is one thing – that shouldn’t be a problem, as long as they avoid zones where it’s not allowed, like doorways and near open windows.
But the majority of arguments against smoke breaks are concerned with the extra time that colleagues get to take them. It doesn’t always seem fair.
Here’s some arguments for and against banning smoke breaks in the workplace – and a few solutions that might keep everyone happy.
Why you should ban smoke breaks
Allowing workers to go outside to smoke whenever they like is not a recipe for office harmony.It means smokers get extra breaks throughout the day, and that’s not fair to non-smokers.
You’d normally think a smoke break would be 5 minutes, but there’s also the time it takes to walk from desk to outside, which can be significant if you’re in a large building. And then there’s the time it takes to get back into focus mode after they return to their desk, which won’t always be instant.
If you’ve got someone smoking 4 times per day, that’s at least 20 minutes of lost time. And if you don’t set rules about smoke breaks, things can end up pretty unbalanced. What happens when someone takes 2 smoke breaks a day, yet someone else takes 6?
Your average 9-5 office job has a lunch break alongside two 15-minute rest breaks each day. That’s enough time for most smokers to get their fix, and if the craving for more is really there, they could consider things like nicotine chewing gum or patches.
In a world where we strive for workplace equality for many different groups of people, having such a divide between smokers and non-smokers just isn’t the right thing to promote.
Why you shouldn’t ban smoke breaks
On the contrary, banning smoke breaks can be harmful to general productivity. If you suddenly ban regular smokers from taking their breaks, you’ll quickly find those staff get fidgety and distracted. If all they can think about is when they’ll get their next fix, it’s going to cause a dip in productivity. Over the course of weeks, you’ll find it’ll cause a fair bit of discomfort and loss of focus.
Nicotine, as well as being addictive, is a stimulant. It gives a mental buzz in a similar way to caffeine. In fact, some wellbeing gurus like Aubrey Marcus suggest taking a non-tobacco dose of nicotine (for example, through a patch or vape inhaler) for increased mental performance throughout the day, even if you don’t smoke. To be clear, this isn’t a recommendation from us – the supporting scientific evidence is shaky and it’s a risky thing to do. But in the interests of fairness, there you go – people are mad enough to do it.
And then there’s the social aspect. Being able to pop outside for a quick chat is a great way to stay sane and reset during a stressful day. Conversations and friendships start during communal smoke breaks, and it’d be a shame to stop that happening.
If you take away these communal gathering opportunities, you take away an important part of many people’s day, and might even damage team cohesion.
Is there a compromise that makes everyone happy?
There may well be a way to keep everyone happy: make smoke breaks equivalent to coffee breaks.
So you can keep your smoke breaks for those who want them, but let everyone else have regular coffee breaks instead.
In a relaxed office culture, you probably wouldn’t track how much time people take to make a coffee, but you’d trust them to not take too long.
If someone wants to walk to the kitchen and spend a few minutes making a tasty brew, that shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, it’s a healthy thing to do – stretch your legs, look at something other than a computer screen, and give your brain a break. Even just a few minutes of time away from thinking about work should be a helpful form of rest.
While you can’t really call a smoke break ‘healthy’ for obvious reasons, those benefits are still present. Legs stretched, a bit of time outside and away from the computer – all good stuff.
As long as you’re clear about what’s allowed, it should work – for example, smokers can grab a coffee on their way back but need to get back to work straight away.
You could also reposition them as fresh air breaks. This means everyone is allowed to go outside for 5 minutes whenever they feel the need. That’ll provide the same benefits and encourage folks to get out of the office more than they usually would.
You could also do these alongside supporting staff in quitting smoking. Not everyone will want to quit, of course, but many will. At least offering resources and information on how to start quitting will be well appreciated by some.
And if you can help your employees become healthier, that’s a bonus all round. They’ll likely end up more energetic, happier and more productive throughout the day.
About the Author
Gary Bury is co-founder and CEO of Timetastic, an independent and profitable web app for managing time off work, used by thousands of companies around the world.