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New Times Need a New Approach to Smoking in the Workplace

Posted By Michael Hook, Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

There has been a shift in perspective in many workplaces regarding assisting smoking employees to quit the habit. The emphasis has swung away from the traditional health concerns accompanying smoking and very firmly towards a concern about the loss of productivity caused by the regular smoke breaks that smokers take.

The days of finger-pointing are over, and the forward-looking organization is being more creative about smoking cessation.

Part of the reason for this is employers are finally doing the math, which reveals those four or five ten-minute breaks daily add up to a loss of close to two full working days a month. This alarming calculation has led to the caring employer examining more carefully the various options available when initiating a new smoking at work strategy. Out of this are emerging some really creative solutions to offer to smokers to make the prospect of quitting more attractive.  (We must bear in mind that the average smoker is absolutely terrified at the prospect of separation from not only the nicotine but perhaps more importantly, the patterns and triggers smokers have perfected via consistent practice, often up to 20 times a day).


So, which of these approaches are having the desired effect?

A Japanese company routinely awards the non-smokers an extra 6 leave days a year. I like this initiative because the reward spans both general non-smokers as well as the newly liberated smokers. So 6 days off work is actually a great deal for the employer as in actual fact smokers generally waste up to 2 full work days each month, the net benefit being an extra 18 days each year of productivity. The employer noted a marked interest in quitting and a much-improved success rate for those attempting to slay the nicotine dragon. 

An American study by the University of Pennsylvania, using a base of 2500 CVS Caremark employees took the “skin in the game” approach by asking potential quitters to bet $150 of their own money, which they would recoup with a handsome bonus when achieving success. A second model grouped quitters and rewarded this group financially upon success.

Both approaches were declared successful, the former especially in recruiting program attendees, but each model had a much higher success rate than unrewarded programs of a similar nature.

Incentives need not be of high monetary value, and the prestige and recognition for successfully quitting often works very well. A very simple approach I recommended to a banking group was to give successful quitters a free cappuccino voucher each day, partly as a reward and partly to keep the quitting momentum. Quitters used this as an opportunity to gather and support each other, and in ways this seemed to replace the connection previously enjoyed when smokers met up a few times a day. Cost to company was minimal but rewardees felt special and appreciated.

I’ve consulted to an organization who tried discouraging smoking by moving the smoking area further and further from the front entrance, but the result was the breaks just consumed more time as smokers had to walk farther. My recommendation was to have a smoking area much closer and in plain view of the open plan offices. Smokers were very aware they were being observed by co-workers and management and we also asked that smokers be urged to join a quitting program sponsored by the employer. This not as a finger pointing exercise, rather offered as a caring and concerned effort to improve the lives and health of valued employees. The results have been encouraging.

The days of finger-pointing are over, and the forward-looking organization is being more creative about smoking cessation. While the long-term health hazards of smoking have long been understood,  when we do the sums on lost employee productivity, such company support for employee smoking cessation is a no-brainer.

Michael HookMichael Hook is a herbal and natural medicine manufacturer, transformation and personal development facilitator, and the father of the Beyond Nicotine quit smoking program. Hook trains practitioners to present the Workshop Experience worldwide. 

Tags:  Quitting Smoking  Smoking  Smoking cessation  Workplace 

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