“If you work for me, you’d better start smoking. Otherwise you’ll not get the breaks the rest of my staff take!”
Yes, my friend was having a joke, but behind the humour was a serious point that irritates lots of non-smoking workers. Why do colleagues who smoke take so many more breaks?
This attitude is not merely anecdotal. New research says that smoking employees are costing UK businesses £8.4bn a year in lost productivity and smokers typically take four 10 minute cigarette breaks during a working day, costing employers £1,815 a year for each full-time member of staff who lights up during working hours. That’s according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
The study also shows that workers who smoke spend about five minutes of each working hour on a smoking break.
"This research shows that not only is smoking extremely damaging to people's heart health, it's also damaging to the health of businesses," said Lisa Purcell, manager of the BHF's ‘Health at Work’ programme.
She added: "With the average smoker taking at least four smoking breaks a day, their addiction is seriously increasing their risk of conditions like heart disease and stroke. It's also costing their employer significant sums in lost productivity. For many workers, smoking has become part of their daily routine at work, which makes it extremely difficult to break."
"Over a working week, smoking breaks cost businesses £25.91 per smoker in lost time that would otherwise be used productively," says the CEBR's report, adding "While it may be argued that time spent on smoking breaks enhances productivity, providing an opportunity for refreshment and reflection, there is probably a decrease in productivity in the time before the smoking break which, on average, cancels out the effect, leaving the smoking break itself as lost productive time."
Smokers also take 70% of an extra day's sick leave every year more than non-smokers, according to CEBR's analysis of the Office for National Statistics' annual population survey of the smoking habits and working patterns of more than 300,000 Britons. CEBR calculates that this time off costs businesses about £50 per smoker per year, or another £288m overall, bringing the total cost to business to almost £8.7bn a year.