Cigarette breaks: Do they affect productivity?

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In my day-to-day role as an account manager for Bizimply, I discuss all aspects of time and attendance with customers; and the contentious issue of “smoke-breaks” is something that climbs its way into the mind of every manager & director that wants to maximise productivity.

So, what can be done? What is best for the business? For this blog I am going to have a succinct overview of the twists and turns one would need to navigate when making this operational decision.

Cigarette breaks: Do they affect productivity?

Allowing cigarette-breaks freely:

There are two issues you will face when facilitating these ad-hoc breaks. One being a financial/productivity issue, and another from an employee satisfaction standpoint.

In terms of a tangible financial loss – according to CNBC, UK companies lose 14.5 Billion dollars a year on cigarette breaks alone. Now, I’m not one for buying into these large, overbearing stats, so let’s look at this granularly:

Sarah makes £10 p/hour and works 5 days a week.

Sarah smokes 3 cigarettes a day, each cigarette break takes roughly 10 minutes to finish.  

(3 cigs X 10 mins) X 5 days = 2.5 hours p/week

2.5 hours X 4 = 10 hours p/month

10 hours X £10 = £100 p/month

£100 X 12 months = £1,200 p/year

When you look at it this way, it does add up. This is providing Sarah consistently smokes three a day, which may not be the case.

Another issue you may face is disgruntling your non-smoker employees who don’t get these additional breaks. The knock-on effect here is lower engagement, disinterest, and a feeling of unfair treatment in the camp. Not ideal, but what are the consequences of condemning these breaks?

Disallowing cigarette-breaks:

I think the proverbial can-of-worms is pretty obvious here.

If you limit a smoker’s opportunity to relieve their need for a cigarette, the results will lead to an aggravated, testy, and dissatisfied employee. This could mean big trouble for your customer-facing employees.

They may not be so polite to potential customers, and I imagine will be pretty sharp when dealing with any possible customer complaints in tandem with their nicotine cravings.

Some companies believe cigarette breaks are a positive use of time as they provide the opportunity for colleagues to get together and talk about work or come up with ideas away from their desks/positions – is it unfair to keep your employees stationary? Could these 10 minutes outside get creative juices flowing and offer a refreshed workforce?


Possible Solutions:

  1. LET THEM SMOKE, But keep an eye on it! (Cheeky-plug warning):A lot of my customers use Bizimply to measure all breaks. So if an employee clocks in and out for breaks, it can all be monetised and measured. This way, you know exactly how much cigarette breaks are costing the business, and therefore allowing you to account for it. This keeps unnecessary loss down, and employees happy.

Know exactly how much cigarette breaks are costing the business, and therefore allowing you to account for it. This keeps unnecessary loss down, and employees happy.

2.  A more extreme yet very interesting action was taken by a Japanese company recently. This group began rewarding non-smokers with six extra days holiday a year to make up for the time their smoking colleagues spend on cigarette breaks. They estimate it takes around ten-fifteen minutes for each break but did not want to restrict smoking breaks entirely.

3.  I suppose you could always let them vape?  

….. Nah.

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