Smoking at work

While statistics vary, it is widely estimated that smokers take a total of approximately six days of smoke breaks annually. And when it comes to the counting the cost of lost productivity, this can quickly spiral out of control at a time when companies are trying to manage efficiencies due to ever-tightening budgets.

While no industry can afford to have even a small percentage of its employees take frequent breaks, the issue is especially critical in manufacturing where ongoing stoppages due to smoke breaks could significantly interfere with the production line. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, examines what companies can do to better manage this process.

“There is currently no legislation in South Africa around smoke breaks. Consequently, smoke breaks are typically managed at the discretion of the company.”

“However,” he notes, “it is advisable for management to have a clear smoking policy in place that stipulates the rules around smoking. To this end, some companies only allow for smoke breaks before and after work, and during lunch and tea breaks. This means staff do not get extra time to smoke.”

A matter of timing

“The reality is that best practice in the country is to allow employees to smoke when they want to, but staff must be made aware that these breaks are a privilege that should not be abused. The average time required to smoke a cigarette is between two and five minutes. So, if you smoke a pack of 20s a day at five minutes per cigarette, it equates to 100 minutes. Multiply this by the number of employees who smoke, factor in tea and lunch breaks, and it quickly becomes apparent how this can negatively impact not only on the organisation but also non-smoking employees who feel they are working harder than their smoking colleagues.”

Informal meetings

The matter becomes even more complex when companies allow employees to go on smoke breaks with their colleagues, ostensibly to discuss business. “Non-smokers could feel excluded when business is discussed during these breaks and come to view this practice as discriminatory, mostly because they do not want to have these informal meetings around people who smoke,” Myburgh points out.

“It also results in the perception that smokers spend more time away from their desks which can become an issue. Companies need to manage this to ensure no discrimination occurs to either group.”

Beyond having a smoking policy in place, some companies could opt to give non-smokers more leave. While this has proven to be a fairly successful strategy in several other countries, Myburgh says it does not address the issue at hand. “Fundamentally, if smoking privileges are abused, the organisation must have a discussion with the employee involved and strive to resolve the matter amicably.

“It is all about fostering open communications with employees and proactively managing the process before it becomes an issue that could negatively impact on productivity and company morale,” Myburgh concludes.