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Published 08 August 2012 07:48, Updated 08 August 2012 15:03
Burnout: Smoking at work was considered cool in the 1950s and ’60s but now many bosses urge quitting Getty Images
Hit TV drama Mad Men portrays smoking in the office as a habit of the well dressed, well paid and highly sexed. But how are smokers in the workplace perceived today?
“I try not to smoke at work because it makes you stand out from the crowd in a bad way,” Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal economist Edward Mullin says. “Smokers stink . . . people notice it.”
But for some employers, the smell of smoke is far from their biggest qualm.
Breckland Council in the eastern English county of Norfolk made waves around the world in 2010 for an initiative that made smokers clock off every time they took a break to smoke.
Breckland councillor William Nunn told British papers at the time that the policy came out of concerns for fairness in the workplace.
“The staff themselves felt there was an issue of fairness going on where some people went out for a smoke and some didn’t,” he said. “[Smokers will] make up the hours lost in their own time.”
There is evidence that smoking at work can reduce productivity. Smokers can spend up to five weeks a year on smoko, a survey by electronic cigarette retailer ECigaretteDirect.co.uk revealed in March.
The study says many smokers spend up to an hour away from their desk every day. Even light smokers can spend 1½ hours away from their desk smoking each week, the study says.
Great Place to Work director Zrinka Lovrencic says anti-smoking initiatives are becoming more common among Australian companies.
“It’s a really, really touchy subject,” Lovrencic says. “Companies are concerned [anti-smoking rules] are going to be viewed as discrimination.”
Lovrencic says that many companies integrate anti-smoking initiatives into benefits packages that encourage a general healthy lifestyle. She has seen companies offer employees rebates for support to help them quit, alongside the more general offering of gym memberships, massages and other healthy benefits. “They’re trying to improve the health of their employees – and that does have advantages for the business,” she says.
IT wholesaling business Distribution Central gives non-smokers an extra day of leave each year. Creating a happy, healthy workforce is the overwhelming goal of the move but productivity was a factor in the decision, company human resources director Jeanne Scott says.
“You do notice those people who just don’t ever leave their desk and we were like, ‘How do you recognise that?’” she says. “Productivity gets noticed and so does what you do with cigarette butts . . . it’s those little things like that you do notice and so we thought, ‘What can we do for non-smokers?’ ” Scott says.
She describes Distribution Central’s initiative as “positive reinforcement” for non-smokers.
Some workplaces take an altogether different view of the habit.
Entrepreneur and online electronics retailer Ruslan Kogan is a smoker. He remembers a past role at electronics giant GE in which the smoking area was located hundreds of metres from the building and cordoned off with chicken wire. “It was like a cattle yard,” he says. “It was the most degrading experience ever. We were made to feel like second-class citizens.”
Chief executive Kogan has a liberal attitude to smoking among his staff. Kogan meetings are often held at a local cafe. When they are, it is not uncommon for staff to request an outside table so they can smoke during discussions.
Kogan has no qualms about staff taking smoking breaks either. He sees no link between the breaks and productivity. “Our staff are free to do what they want . . . [they] get judged on the work they’ve done at the end of the day,” he says. “We know it’s not good for you but there’s other stuff that people do . . . we spend 10 hours a day in front of a computer screen – I think that’s more unhealthy.”
Kogan sees some advantage in his habit. “It’s a bonding tool,” he says. “Whenever you’re somewhere the cigarette smokers go outside for a chat and sometimes you’ve never met them before but you get chatting.”