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Should start-up businesses be stamping out smoke breaks?

Could the growing popularity for vaping offer a quicker, cleaner alternative for your smoking employees?

All business owners, no matter how small their company might be, feel the pressure of lost productivity within their business at some time or another.

Entrepreneurs undoubtedly strive to recruit and retain the best staff possible and to produce the most effective and hard-working teams; but inevitably we all get distracted to some degree when we’re at work – even some of the biggest names in commerce admit that this is the case.

If you’re in a start-up it’s even more vital that everyone pulls their weight: a fledgling business requires its small team to put in hard graft to make it fly.

And what’s one of the biggest productivity killers faced by businesses?

The smoke break

When we consider the various difficulties associated with laying the foundations for a new business, losing valuable working hours to smoke breaks is a needless distraction. Each time a team member stops what they are doing, leaves the office to go outside to smoke, and then makes their way back to the workplace to pick up their task, a good 10 minutes or so is lost. Given how valuable every minute is to an organisation of any size – let alone one looking to build a reputation – this wasted time adds up.

Another overlooked consequence of workplace smoking is that non-smoking staff can feel aggrieved that they are carrying more of the work burden than their smoking colleagues, who routinely pop outside for ten or so minutes at a time. This is particularly noticeable within a small-scale team, where the absence of just one person has a bigger impact than in a team of many.

Is there a solution?

Whilst many employers would love to simply ban smoking at work altogether, this could lead to unhappiness amongst the smoking staff and end up doing more harm than good. Tensions within a team pose a threat to the survival of your business: if you can fall out over something so trivial, how can you come together to make key decisions regarding the future of your firm?

One potential light at the end of the tunnel is the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, which provide a similar nicotine hit to ordinary cigarettes without the tar and harmful chemicals. By pressing a button on the e-cig device, an e-liquid is heated, releasing a flavoured vapour containing the nicotine.

The whole process is more or less instantaneous, with no ash, stubs or cigarette packets to dispose of, making vaping a much speedier and cleaner alternative. Vaping might not get rid of the smoke break, but it certainly reduces its overall impact. E-cigarettes have actually become one of the most popular ways to give up smoking, so encouraging your employees to make the switch to vaping could eventually help them quit altogether.

Another possible way to minimise the impact of smoke breaks is to consider introducing official breaks, where all staff stop work for a set time. This would allow smokers to get their nicotine fix, whilst also giving non-smoking staff a break, removing the question of preferential treatment and improving productivity for the whole team.

A tougher stance…

Whilst official breaks might reduce workplace tension and improve productivity to a degree, wasted time still has an impact on productivity and some firms take a much tougher stance on the issue of workplace smoking.

Companies operating a zero-tolerance policy on smoking ask employees to record all smoke breaks and to either make up for lost time or have their earnings cut to reflect their reduced hours. This kind of approach can push smoking staff to hold out until lunchtime or after work to have a cigarette, which might reduce wasted time, but could lead to very grumpy staff. If your employees are tied in to a short-term contract (if they have one at all), creating resentment amongst them early on could impact your ability to retain skilled workers.

Clearly, smoking does have a significant impact in the workplace that needs to be addressed. Perhaps the best way forward for any business is to discuss the matter with the employees themselves and to find a solution that, whether a smoker or not, everyone can agree on.

Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.


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