Smoke Breaks

You know those people at your workplace who spend a whole bunch of their time and energy watching their fellow employees to make sure they come in on time;  don’t leave before their allotted going home time;  don’t take any longer than their allotted time for breaks; aren’t on the phone making personal calls and/or don’t spend time on Facebook or playing online Poker when they’re supposed to be working?

I don’t like those people. Every office has at least one. I figure if people are getting the work done they’re supposed to be getting done and they’re doing a good job, who cares when and how they get it done? In fact, unless it’s directly impacting the amount of work I have to do, I don’t even care if these people are doing the work they’re supposed to be doing. It’s not my business to worry about that. But I guess it would be if I were their employer or supervisor.

But the Office Timekeepers spend a good deal of their time fretting about stuff  like this. One of the things that drives Office Timekeepers mental is smokers. But it’s not just Office Timekeepers who are concerned about the workplace productivity of smokers.

Let’s, for now,  leave out the whole question of things like the extra sick days taken by smokers and additional company insurance costs incurred by smokers and focus on the study that calculates smokers spend an average of one hour per workday on smoke breaks. This includes getting their coats or whatever on, getting to the smoking area, smoking the actual cigarette, doing a bit of socializing and then getting back to their desks and settled into work.

So, at an hour a day, over the course of a year, they reckon smokers are getting about 8 days’ extra leave time than non-smokers.

This has a lot of non-smokers (and employers) kind of riled up. So much so, that many employers have taken steps like banning smoking during work hours altogether. Some even refuse to hire people who smoke.

 During a discussion on this at my bus stop one morning, one of the guys (who normally seems to know what he’s talking about) said there was an employer in Europe somewhere who’s decided to give his non-smoking employees an extra 8 days of vacation every year. I can’t find anything on the interwebby to support this claim, though I did find one Swedish politician/doctor who is recommending extra vacation days for non-smokers.

It sounds interesting, mainly because I’m always in favour of giving people more vacation days. Also, a  move like this doesn’t seem quite as overtly punative toward smokers as not allowing them to smoke or not hiring them in the first place or taxing the hell out of their cigarettes. I don’t know how exactly you’d implement something like that, though

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, there is considerable distress over “smoker discrimination in the workplace”. Employees have been fired because they couldn’t quit smoking or not hired because they were smokers. Many smokers feel they have an illness/addiction and have the right to “self-medicate” with nicotine as required.

Still, a lot of non-smoking employees resent the fact that their smoking co-workers are always trotting off for smoke breaks. I figure smokers already have enough problems for me to begrude them a few extra breaks.

And really, there’s nothing that says the rest of us can’t go for “fresh air breaks” every hour or so, right?

I’m pretty much addicted to fresh air, but I can’t see myself having the discpline, dedication or commitment to get me to put on my coat and galoshes 5 ot 6 times a day and stand outside our building for 10 minutes at a time in rain, blizzards, hailstorms, windstorms, monsoons, typhoons, hurricanes or what have you.

However, it would be interesting to see what would happen if all the non-smoking employees decided to do this, wouldn’t it?


39 responses to “Smoke Breaks

  1. For years before I started smoking, I’d always go outside with the smokers whether at school (college) or at work because they were all very sociable whereas the nonsmokers kept to themselves, so as long as you don’t have to breathe it, I say go with them and have some casual social time. It’s how I got to know my husband actually. And the funny thing is that now I smoke and HE doesn’t.

  2. I had a job where the workload was such that there was a rush in the morning, a lull for an hour or so and then a rush in the afternoon. Because the work was driven by the delivery of files from other organizations there wasn’t anything we could do to change this. There were only four or five of us between my team and another team and the manager.

    I was on the small team and when I started my co-worker was responsible for training me. He smoked and when he was out having a cigarette there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, so I went out for fresh air breaks, taking care to stand upwind of the smokers. I did this with such regularity that I’m sure the manager thought I smoked.

  3. I’m with you… I don’t waste my time fretting over how much everyone else is working. I work and I take a break when I can/need to. As far as smokers are concerned, as long as I don’t have to smell it and they are not my children, they can smoke whenever they want. It’s a bummer about their health, but I think they’re aware.

  4. Personally I don’t think smokers should be allowed to leave in the middle of their work day. You’re there to work not partake of your vice.

  5. We have these two young guys in our office who usually smoke together, and I know there’s definitely a social aspect to their jaunts outside. I’m actually a little envious of that, and I always feel bad for one of them when the other one is off work; it must get lonely out there, and right now, one of them is out on sick leave for a month. Wonder if the other one is suffering from withdrawal. Maybe he’ll take this opportunity to try to quit. I hope so, because they both have young kids, and I worry about how long they’ll be there for their kids if they don’t. Well, worry is a strong word…I mostly just think about it from time-to-time. After all, I have my work that keeps me too busy to worry about what other people are doing most days.

  6. I dont’ smoke. But when I need a break, I’ll take one whenever I want. (Even it’s just sitting by my computer and coasting). So I reckon it all evens out.

    The problem here is that most companies are still stuck in 1970, and enforce the time-oriented approach to work.

    Where the “expectation” is that you’re “productive” 7.5 hours a day, 37.5 days a week, every hour that you’re at your desk. And you do your socializing during lunch and your breaks.

    …almost as if you’re on an assembly line, and for every minute you’re not at your job, some widgets don’t get made and the company loses money.

    That’s fine for an assembly-line worker. But not for an office worker on salary.

    More progressive companies are starting to use the “Results-Oriented” approach. Where the employee is given so much work to do, and is expected to finish it by such-and-such a date. And the employee is left alone to do it.

    I know that sounds really revolutionary, but this approach has had a huge amount of success in some major corporations.

    If more bosses would start using this, all this smoking/non smoking and other micromanagement issues would fly out the window.

  7. the hubby read me an article the other day where one guy brought a bag of apples in one week. he shadowed one smoker for the week, going outside and having an apple every time the smoker went for a smoke. his boss noticed and asked what he was doing. he replied that if the smokers can have all this break time, he was going to as well. interesting way to show the employer how much time is spent, but i also agree with and friar. if they are getting the work they need to get done in their work day, all the power to them. but if they aren’t and are making more work for their fellow employees, then i have issue with it.

  8. @Friar: My husband’s work environment is very much like this. Not only does it allow for him to take breaks (or work his ass off) when needed, but he also manages to work from home two or three a week on average because there’s no one checking in on him at his desk. They don’t care; his work gets done while he commutes less and stresses less over ‘looking productive to the Timekeepers.

    I’m self-employed (when I can swing a contract or two) while also staying home to raise my kids. I used to be a smoker, but am glad I quit many years ago. Going out for a fix with little eyes watching would be far worse to me than being glared at by an office Timekeeper.

  9. Geewits – I know people who do that, too. I find it difficult to work like that, though. Once I’m going on something, I don’t want to stop until it’s done or I can’t relax anyway.

    Gordon – People who quit always still keep going out with their little group when they smoke. They like the socializing. Pretty soon, though, they start smoking again, too.

    Christine – Ya, I think they know. People nagging them or threatening them isn’t going to suddenly make them realize it’s not good for them.

    Sean – Very brave of you to say. And plenty of people agree with you. No one here, so far, but we’ll see.

    Skye – Awwww…they need a bigger social/smoking circle. At my workplace there is alway a big, jolly crowd outside the doors.

    Friar – Officially no one makes a big deal about time in our workplace, but like I said there’s always one or two employees who actually take it upon themselves to record people’s comings and goings and then report it to the manager who then has to give us all a little talk. It’s very off-pissing.

    Smothermother – I don’t think eating that many apples in one day could be good for someone.

    Maven – Hey! Look at you here on my blog!! What a lucky husband to have such a progressive workplace. Ours kind of says it is, but then other employees don’t like that make a big stink and then they have to lay down the law…sort of… You’ve got the best gig of all, though!!

  10. @friar.”If more bosses would start using this, all this smoking/non smoking and other micromanagement issues would fly out the window.”
    But then what the heck would the boss do to fill up 80% of his/her working time. They’d all have to start smoking.

  11. There’s an “office timekeeper” at my work. She’s a total and complete bitch and I can’t stand her. But she’s also a smoker, so she has no problem prancing off for long periods. (But if other people do it, watch out! She’ll run squealing like a two-year-old to the boss)

    Interesting double standard no?

  12. So much to say, no time to say it.

    Used to work at a place where we took Virtual Smoke Breaks. I was amazed at how it made me more productive (job was tedious).

    Smokers can smoke and take time off, just get your bloody job done.

    Our TimeKeeper ran squealing to my boss once that I came in late, took long lunches and then left early. He showed her my unofficial time clock that we kept for just such an emergency. She thought I was working 30 hours a week. Turns out it was more like 70. Looks like she forgot the other 7 companies in the Group that I service. She hasn’t made a peep yet. One time I offered to call her at home everytime I got a call at home. She called my bluff and she was pissed when I called her at 3 AM and on Sundays.


  13. Ah! I’ve run into the same kind of issue as Pauline. Years ago, a relative and I worked a summer at the same office in Ottawa. My relative had worked there part-time for years, so she’d built up a good reputation as a dependable, conscientious worker. At one point during the summer she had some medical issues that meant she had to use the washroom a couple of times a day more than normal. Her manager was such a complete jerk about it. Kept giving her a hard time for all the breaks she was taking. Even when my relative explained it was a medical issue it didn’t make a difference–she got snarked at.

    But the smokers in the same office? No one ever said anything about the many smoke breaks they took.

    I’m like you in that I don’t really think it matters if people take breaks here and there as long as they don’t miss important meetings and they get their work done on time. It just drives me nuts when concessions are made for smokers but not other.

    Time’s pretty flexible in my current workplace, so luckily I haven’t had to deal with this lately.

  14. I think coffee drinkers waste more time (haha!), they often go to buy coffee a couple of times a day and need more washroom breaks!

    Seriously, the world if full of all different people with different habits and different work ethics. A slacker is a slacker whether or not they smoke, and the ones who work hard do whether or not they smoke, have kids, are young/old, talk on the phone, surf the net!

  15. Eyeteaguy, that’s awesome. So is the apple story.

    Nobody in our office smokes, but there are smokers in other offices in the building. I wouldn’t mind it if they took a frickin’ walk around the block to take a smoke instead of hanging out right outside the front door, getting the lobby full of cigarette stench. Oh, and if they would walk the one flight up of stairs to their second storey office instead of taking the elevator!

    – RG>

  16. I wonder if it would work with pot smoking? But like, instead of your addiction taking you away from your work in bits at a time, you claim that you have to leave work EARLY in order to get your high on.

    “Duuuuude, I need to leave by 3, pick up a ‘za by 3:30 and make it home for my smoke and Oprah at 4. I can’t help it! I’m addicted man!”

  17. At the last two places I worked, I — a lifelong, diehard non-smoker — also started taking smoke breaks.
    Not only is it a social event and an opportunity to get to know other people who work in the same building, it’s a rejuvenating break.
    Co-workers starting saying “Hey, Bob, it’s time for a smoke break” and I would join them. I feel refreshed when I return to work five or ten minutes later, and would venture that it makes me more productive, or that the quality of my work is just a tad better because of that quick break. It also reduces accumulating stress.
    I try to stand outside of the smoke. But the second last place I worked was right beside the 401 in Toronto. So what’s worse? Cigarette smoke or automobile exhaust fumes?

  18. My Widget Factory is the Ultimate environment for the Time-Keepers.

    We have deadlines to meet, but we work in noisy cubible farms where you can’t concentrate. But they don’t trust us to work from home via lap-top. In fact, they won’t even GIVE you a lap-top.

    (I guess they prefer we’re someplace where they can watch us, rather than someplace where we can actually WORK).

    Once, my colleague was caught for “Time Cheating”. He’s one of the key safety personnel and work cannot proceed unless he’s present. People’s lives literally depend on him.

    So he’d work through lunch to make sure major work packages got completed by all the tradesmen by the end of the day. To make up for it, he’d occasionally leave a bit early.

    And the Time Keepers almost FIRED him.

    My own Time-Keeper Boss repeatedly accused me of “Chit-chatting” and distracting people, even though our project was ahead of schedule and I just got promoted.

    Once, I was reprimanded for not focussing on work the full 7.5 hours a day. This was a few days after my Mom almost died from a bike accident and was still in the trauma ward with a brain injury

    And the Time-Keeper Witch KNEW this.

    Of course, if there was a work-related function after hours, we were “expected” to attend, though.

  19. I hate those nosey time-keepers! I experienced this when I worked. A new woman was hired (friend of the director), and she was on my back all day. I was not allowed to take breaks (they made me answer the phones all day!!), and if I did beg to go to the bathroom (while pregnant), I would get a scoff, and this would be considered my “break.”
    I even fell once while pregnant (was up delivering everyone’s mail) because I was in a rush to get back to my desk to catch the phone, because of all the critics who were watching me, and harping on me daily to be at my desk at all times (when I had other work to do away from the desk, URGH!!).
    Anyway, this said “time-keeper” went outside to smoke every 45 minutes (I swear), then she came in 25-30 minutes later. I would get calls everyday saying people couldn’t “reach” her. No wonder, she was outside all day. She even asked me once if I needed something to do, cause she had plenty (duh! if you would ever do anything you could get caught up). I told her I had enough of my own work to do. I knew if I helped her, it would just enable her to take more breaks!!
    When I brought this up to the director and human resources, after I finally got fed up with the abuse I got daily when I was doing nothing wrong, they told me to suck it up and worry about my job, and this was simply not true (even when I had back-up emails from other workers who saw the same things I did)!!!
    Sorry for the rant, I am not against smokers, I was a smoker too, but I waited until after work to smoke or at lunch time (I had to). It is just ironic how people who watch other’s productivity are usually the ones who need to be watched.
    And I agree with what others have said, they should look at the work you are putting out, not how much time you are at your desk.

  20. I used to smoke. I used my smoke breaks to punctuate the days. I’d finish a task, and the smoke was a period. I’d pause in the middle of a long task, and the smoke was a comma. I wasn’t sure how to do a task, and the smoke was a question mark. And so on.

    For the record, we (my fellow smokers and I) actually spent about half of our smoke break time having work-related conversations that we needed to have anyway. (The rest of the time was spent finding out from other smokers what was going on in the rest of the building, talking about what was going on in our personal lives, and talking about our coworkers, especially the office time-keeper.) Also? We were frequently joined by non-smokers who just wanted some fresh air and good conversation.

  21. Dave – My boss goes on vacation when she runs out of things to nag us about. And we really appreciate it.

    Pauline – This great nation is built on double-standards. I’ve found it’s usually the ones that goof off the most that are the most concerned about other people doing it. It’s like the spouse that’s always jealous because he’s forever screwing around so he reckons the wife is doing it too.

    Eyeteaguy – It’s too bad we can’t just ignore these people. How do they get so much power? What’s wrong with their lives that this is so bloody important to them?

    Mary Lynn – I can’t believe someone got hell for using the washroom a lot. She should have given him graphic details of what was wrong with her – or made something up that would really embarrass him.

    Betsy Mae-I know some of the smokers actually put in extra time after work or at lunch or whenever to make up for the time they take to smoke – not because anyone has asked them to, just because they’re being conscientious

    RealGrouchy – Ya, well that’s a whole other discussion. I’m pretty revolted at having to walk the gauntlet of smokers every time I leave or enter the building and having to walk on that lovely thick carpet of butts. We should have a talk with Zoom about that actually because she and I met on my blog over a sparring match about butts.

    Kim – Are you addicted to pot or to Oprah? Do you have to be addicted to pot in order to even watch Oprah? Can you, in fact stomach Oprah without pot?

    Bob – I would agree that it’s an excellent idea to get outside for a quick break every once in a while. I make it a point to get outside at lunch no matter what the weather – unless it’s Friday and we’re going to the pub or something.

    Friar – Your workplace sounds horrible. I believe I’ve said that before, but it really does. I can’t believe a company with that sort of attitude can even continue to thrive in today’s environment. How do they ever manage to recruit new talent? Do they pay a really, really enormous salary or something? Because that’s the only reason I can think of for someone wanting to come to work there. (Unless, of course it was the only place they could work within reasonable commuting distance or something)

    Mommie – Holy crap. Seriously. I can’t believe there are still places like this functioning in today’s world. I’ve had employers like that in the past, but that was decades ago and they’re all dead and mummified by now. I assume you never had to go back there after your baby was born? Now you have a great job being a mom, right?

    Zoom – Ha ha. Excellent. Did you actually think of it as punctuation back then or is this something you just realized now? You’re not hankering for the good old smoking days now are you?

  22. My experiences of the last couple of months in public service make me long for result-oriented goals. Ass in seat for 7.5 hours a day proves nothing. If one can get done what they need to do and still have time for smoking/walks/naps/web surfing/chatting, then it’s all good.

    This is not to say that I condone smoking. I hate walking along downtown sidewalks and being repeatedly exposed to second-hand carcinogens of the furtive office-smokers, or being trapped in an elevator with a reeking smoker. Blech!

  23. If you get the job done and done well I do not care how many breaks/personal calls/surfing a person does. Sometimes I feel sorry for “office time-keepers” ’cause I’m pretty sure they are self-righteously timing all kind of other things in their life. Wouldn’t that be exhausting? That could why they seem so bitchy and nasty. (Except I don’t feel sorry for the terrible co-workers mentioned above – horrible stories…)

  24. I’m a manager and I can’t stand those office timekeepers. If anybody tries to tattle to me about that kind of thing, I ask them if the behaviour is affecting their work. If it is, then we deal with the specifics. If it’s not, I tell the snitch that they’re obviously not working hard enough themselves if they’ve got time to waste monitoring everybody else. I tend to have very few snitches in my office.

    That said, I hate it when people take advantage of my reasonableness. I just had to “move on” (of course we never “fire” anyone in the PS) an employee who seemed to think that she was entitled to unlimited time off, off the books, to take care of various family and personal things. And that she could just call in at 1000 in the morning and say she was “working from home,” which meant she’d check her Blackberry a couple of times a day.

    I like the idea of giving non-smokers a few extra vacation days. Maybe we could use them all an hour at a time…

  25. Isn’t nicotine a stimulant? Perhaps that stimulant can help the smokers be more effective after a smoke. I don’t condone smoking either. I hate second hand smoke and the smoker smell.

  26. 5 or 6 times a DAY?! I smoke, and I can honestly say I go out maybe three times. Once for morning break, once at lunch and once in the afternoon. At max.

    And that is more than ENOUGH. If I doubled that I might die.

    But I have frequently been told that I’m not a real smoker. I’m okay with that.

  27. Susan – Excellent description – the government is still and I guess has to continue to be “ass in the seat” oriented for the most part because government is all about optics. If the unwashed masses see some public servants having a 2-hour lunch, they complain and maybe the media gets hold of it and then there’s a big mess (and it actually HAS happened in a place I used to work). That’s also why we can’t promote on merit, give staff performance incentives or bonuses or do any of that other stuff that would make good business sense but would look like we’re robbing the taxpayer of dollars.

    MM – Ya, I don’t know where they find the time to keep track of everyone and still do their jobs!

    Lester – I don’t like it that people abuse the “working at home” thing like that because it makes everyone else look like a slacker if they want to work at home. I think working at home is an incredibly productive thing to do sometimes for some people. How do you manage to put off the tattlers? Some of them will just go over your head if they get no action from you – that’s another problem with government; there’s always someone else to tattle to.

    Jennifer – I wasn’t talking about condoning or not condoning smoking. If they’re adults and they’re doing it away from people who don’t want to inhale their smoke then I guess they can do whatever they want. And they seem to be saying that these little breaks DO make them more productive. And that, I guess, is up to their managers to decide.

    April – Ha ha. So smokers have hierarchies like vegetarians? If you eat fish, you’re not a real vegetarian and if you don’t smoke at least 2 packs a day or something you’re not a real smoker? I remember they used to say people who smoked menthol cigarettes weren’t real smokers. You don’t smoke menthol, do you?

  28. I don’t fault people who smoke for wasting “valuable work time”.

    In places I’ve worked the non smokers wasted just as much time and were off sick just as often..

  29. Yes XUP I am home with kids now…..I do long for adult stimulation and outside work though. I miss it terribly (but not that place). That is why I finally quit (besides Satan telling me too), I hated going in, I loved my job and the few men I worked for in my “group,” but as for the new director & new time-keeper, they made it hell for me to even do my job right, and that bothered me!!
    I actually took a 4 month medical leave after baby because of all the stress…went back, same deal, then quit for good after 3 more months of HELL!
    Funny though, we counted it up….after that new director/time-keeper became “in charge” over 30 people quit on the spot (with no other job lined up), transferred, or retired….all with the same reasoning!! And personel just turned a deaf ear to the whole scene!!

  30. @XUP

    My salary is not enormous. It’s reasonable, but not enormous.

    The big selling thing here great outdoors (if you’re into that kind of thing). Which I am.

    So I tolerate it here. Just barely.

    But you’re right. They’re having a hard time recruiting new talent.

  31. Glen – Me either. I waste a lot of time at work. But I get a lot of stuff done, too.

    Mommie – Well good riddance to that place! Aren’t there play groups or something you could take your kids while the parents chat? Or, a library program or something? That’s what I used to do when I was home with mine — or just go visit a friend who has kids the same age. I never missed adult conversation enough to want to go back to work — and I didn’t even have the internet back then!

  32. >>So, at an hour a day, over the course of a year, they reckon smokers are getting about 8 days’ extra leave time than non-smokers.

    As a non-smoker, it doesn’t really bother me. Many years ago, I started taking “smoke breaks” just like the smokers. Sure, I didn’t smoke, but I’d take a break, go get a coffee, sometimes even go out to the smoking humiliation zone and chat with the smokers.

    On one such visit, a director (I was a civil servant) asked why I came out but didn’t smoke? I explained that while smokers get free time off, non-smokers have to sit inside and pick up the slack. That was unreasonable and unfair. If smokers could get free time off, so could I. Until the situation was addressed, I was prepared to take smoke breaks like the smokers.

    Now that director thought I was being completely fair and wondered aloud why more people didn’t do it too. Other smokers, overhearing this conversation, thought I was being a complete ass, that I was lazy and should be reprimanded for slacking. That’s funny… a smoker on their 5th cigarette break for the day complaining that someone else is lazy for taking a break.

    Anyway, as long as smoke breaks are tolerated, I take coffee breaks and long lunches. When called on it, I claim that I just add my smoke-break time to coffee and lunch. So far, nobody has been able to pin me on it.

  33. Squid – That’s good. Are you still with the public service or in a private industry? I can’t imagine a private company putting up with that for too much longer. I just don’t have the discipline to trudge outdoors every hour. I’m always amazed that smokers do — you’d think with such discipline it would be easy for them to quit.

  34. Presently, I am seeking career opportunities 🙂

    Private companies tend to take a dimmer view of smoke breaks generally, unless there is a very large contingent of smokers – a pretty rare situation in white-collar work. At the last company I worked for, smokers were generally considered slackers, their smoke breaks considered an annoyance, and their habit a sign of poor judgement.

    I haven’t been a civil servant for some years. I may become one again though, one day.

  35. Squid – You’d better get crackin’ if you want to be a public servant again. You’re getting a little long in the tooth for the recruiters. No offense, but they’re hungry for the just-out-of-university crowd these days

  36. the time keeper people you mention drive me nuts too, their inability to mind their own business is scary. i assume that some of them don’t have anything of value going on in their lives so they hyperfocus on other people.

    i like the idea of giving non smokers the extra vacation days. times when i was in the office, many of the non smokers did go out for fresh air breaks and walk around the building.

    i’m not opposed to banning smoking at work (and i’m a smoker as you know).

  37. Leah – Even if you banned smoking at work, they presumably could still smoke on their actual breaks and during lunch. That would leave them with only about 2 hours at a time without a cigarette. They have to sit without smoking on a plane for a lot longer than that, right? Still, I don’t care one way or the other.

  38. I see little difference between someone trudging outside with their pack of smokes and someone zoned out and staring at their computer. I used to work with a guy who ran a business on the side and spent half his day on the phone with his employees and set ups. He looked busy as hell and shone because I did half his work with mine – had to to prevent chaos and getting blamed for it.
    Like kids who know whether the Robins or Bluebirds are the better reading group, most of us know who the slackers are, regardless of their filthy habit or shiny halo.

  39. Mary – True. Running a business on the side from work seems to cross the line into highly unethical, though. Taking extra breaks, making a few personal calls or doing some personal internetting/emailing (within reason) doesn’t seem too bad by comparison!