Equality in the Workplace: Smokers vs. Non-Smokers

Some Canadian companies are considering giving their non-smoking employees more vacation time to make up for the smoking breaks their fellow employees take during the workday, according to a new piece on CAHI.org. This discussion is making for quite the hot topic in Canada, when a Japanese marketing firm; Piala Inc., decided to give six extra days of vacation to their non-smoking employees. From a business and Human Resources perspective there are many things to consider before introducing a policy like this in your company.

The Debate:

A Company in Toronto and Vancouver, Noise Digital, is considering a policy like this for their employees. President, Trevor Carr, has been hearing more and more from his non-smoking employees about extra vacation. Carr would consider introducing this policy as a way to encourage his staff to live a healthier lifestyle and to quit smoking. On the flipside, a Toronto based company, Playground Inc., feels that introducing a policy like this is “shaming and guilt-based”, which will only foster resentment and will not inspire any smokers to quit. The technical director of Playground Inc., Maja Witter, encourages all her team members to go for breaks and take walks so they can “come back to a problem with a new perspective”. Witter feels like these breaks are not considered a loss of productivity.

The Stats:

Based on 2013 Statistics by the Conference Board of Canada*, the study found that on average each smoker costs an employers around $4,200 in productivity each year – $3,800 of that total was due to unauthorized smoke breaks and $414 due to increased absences. Statistics also state that each daily smoker and recent quitter took almost 2.5 more sick days in 2010 compared to employees who have never smoked.

Human Resources Perspective:

This policy is sparking a good debate amongst human resource professionals. There are many things to consider before your company considers a policy like this.

  1. Discrimination at the workplace: Implementing a policy like this could cause segregation within the company. Smokers and Non Smokers already battle with segregation as smokers bond and develop social relationships with fellow smokers during their smoking breaks. Having a policy like this could further that segregation and split your team even further.
  2. Positive incentives for your employees to live healthier lifestyles: Companies are always looking for ways to encourage their employees to make healthier life choices. The statistics speak for themselves, having healthier employees will increase productivity at workplace and save your company thousands of dollars each year.

Our recommendation: Consider your culture and check your policies

What kind of culture do you want to promote at your business? If health and wellness are important and you want to attract people to your organization who these values then encourage employees to take healthy breaks. Leaders should walk the talk and demonstrate to employees that owners/managers utilize breaks in a manner that is health and active – for example, go for walks during their break or setup a ping-pong table in the cafeteria. Watch what happens when leaders engage in these types of activities during their breaks – they start attracting people to their organization that also value these activities.

All businesses should check their policies and procedures – what does your Company’s employee handbook say about paid breaks? Regardless if you smoke or not, based on Alberta employment standards, employers have to give ALL employees at least a 30 minute break (paid or un-paid) during every 5 hours of work. It is up to the company and managers discretion if they wish to approve extra breaks for their staff to take a longer break for a walk, to play a game and/or to go for a smoke. It is very important that companies list their break policies in their Company’s policies and procedure manuals/handbooks and also to re-inforce messaging which is consistent with your culture and values.

Salopek & Associates can support you in developing your policies to be reflective of your culture, helping you to attract and retain employees who share your organizational values. Contact us today if you’d like to chat further about how to manage Break policies for smokers vs. non-smokers, or are interested in learning more about how we can support you in developing policies and an HR Manual that is reflective of your culture.


Global News: Some Canadian companies considering giving non-smokers more vacation time

The Conference Board of Canada: The Cost of Tobacco Use in Canada, 2012

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