Anatomy of a Workplace Smoke Break (or, Should We Call It Recess?)

Let’s break down the anatomy of a Smoke Break:

  • Step 1: Gathering of smoke-related materials to go on break (20-30 seconds).
  • Step 2: Decision to go on break commando, or alert smoke friend you’re going on break (10-45 seconds).
  • Step 3: Travel time to proper Smoke Break destination (1-2 minutes).
  • Step 4: Consuming cancer stick (3-4 minutes) – which includes conversation with other cancer stick consuming buddies.
  • Step 5: Travel time back to work area (1-2 minutes).
  • Step 6: Settling back in to get on task (1 -2 minutes).

Total estimated Smoke Break time: 10 minutes.

Smoke breaks? They’re like recess

Multiply Smoke Break time by six (6) = 1 hour per day for smoking that you’re paying for five (5) hours per week. Let’s say people work 49 weeks per year. Average wage is $20/hr = $4,900.

So, that’s what you are paying someone in your environment to smoke. (FYI – this does not include the cost of your insurance going up as well for poor health)

Just so we are clear, I add this into our Total Compensation Statements for our smokers! It’s a great benefit; I list it under “Recess.”

So, not to make my non-smoking employees upset by this total disregard for company resources, I let each non-smoking employee have an hour of “recess” each day!

What is “recess?” It’s when you see Janie over by someones cube talking about Dancing With The Stars for 20 minutes – that’s 20 minutes of “recess!” Now if Janie is a smoker, and she’s taking “recess” on top of her smoking break, Janie gets fired. Janie is using her “recess” to smoke – she doesn’t get additional “recess.”

Sounds crazy right?

Why do we allow smoking breaks?

Here’s what I know: every single one of your non-smoking employees looks at this situation exactly like I describe it above – but maybe in less colorful terms. “Why does Janie get to take an hour of her day off to smoke, and get paid, while I continue to sit here and work?” Why do we, as leaders and HR Pros, allow this to happen?

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We don’t legally have to allow people to take a smoking break. Heck, we can fire them for taking a smoking break. Would you allow an employee to take an hour out of their day to play with a loaded gun in the parking lot? Why not? What’s the difference?

As a leader and HR Pro, I know smoking is bad. I know it costs me the health of my employees, increases my health insurance costs, and my non-smoking employees hate that I allow this. So, why do I allow it?

You’re going to love this answer! Because “we always have.” That’s why. And it’s stupid.

So, do you allow Smoke Breaks? Why? (And please, don’t comment about “life choices.”)

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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