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.


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

  1. We don’t allow smoke breaks. We usually warn people during the interview process because it can be tough on someone to only get to smoke before work, at lunch, then after work. We figure we are doing our part to improve their health. No recess! It’s just that simple.

  2. I’ve worked in situations where everyone on the team went outside and took a break together whether they were a smoker or not. It was actually a pretty good collaboration time. I’d also known smokers who would put in extra time every day in order to make up for their breaks.

    But these were the exceptions, not the rule. And I’ve never seen a smoke break that took only 10 minutes. More like 15-20 minutes, with often more than one cigarette smoked.

    Then there is the cost to clean up the mess left behind by the smokers. While some smokers may be quite diligent, there is always a pile of butts left on the ground and usually other assorted litter too. And don’t get me started on the smokers that seem to have permanent stench etched into their clothes.

    Quite frankly, I don’t understand why we as a society allow drug addicts to lower the quality of our lives and our workplaces.

  3. The managers where I work allow people to take short breaks during the day. They can use it to smoke, or they can use it to go for a walk or get coffee. At the end of the day no one really cares when someone leaves for a bit. It really shouldn’t matter as long as they get the job done and don’t miss meetings or anything. That said, I totally understand why an employer may be reluctant to hire smokers, or even have a policy against them. Higher insurance premiums, more time outside, and the smell can be unbearable.

  4. I think the comment that you shared at the end of the article on personal choices is a solid spring board for this: We run an animal protection group (all animals, not just dogs and cats), and we don’t allow employees to consume animal products on property as it goes against our mission statement.

    Seeing has how many agree that policies against smoking on property are logical, what is your take on our ban on animal products. I’d like to, in further linking the consumption of animal products to smoking, present that according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarians are less prone to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity than
    meat-eaters are.

  5. Employees can’t access Facebook on their breaks, but we allow them to smoke ciggarettes. In my opinion, I’d rather have them reading (even if it is junk reading) rather than smoking. So, our employees can access Facebook on their “recess”. I find it difficult to say to an employee, “she/he is approved to smoke, drive up our health care costs, and bring a funky scent back into the work place, but you aren’t allowed to access Facebook (or other not related work websites) on your break.” As employers, we really need to examine what we are really saying to our employees.

  6. At our business everyone gets two 15 minute breaks, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. If they want to use that to smoke, they can, as long as it is off property and away from access points to the property. Our people have responded very well to this policy, and to the occasional reminder needed to keep them in line. To my understanding, in Canada we can’t refuse to hire someone because they smoke. For that matter, we can’t even ask about smoking, as it has nothing to do with the job they are being hired to do. All we can do is ensure that our policies give us the freedom to discipline those who take extra time to feed their habit.

  7. I am a smoker and take “smoke breaks”, one in the morning and one in the afternoon…they take 7-8 minutes per break and I clock out for them….Many of my non-smoking coworkers will sit and chit-chat for 20 minutes at a time or longer (which I do NOT do)….I actually, as a smoker, get resentful that I have to clock out for my free time but others don’t.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it is acceptable and right that I clock out to smoke, but other people take the same amount of time (or often much longer) in their “paid” break time….Does anybody ever think of it that way???

  8. I am currently righting the smoking policy for my workplace, I see it as very simple task and so far the policy is drafting well through the review process. In a nutshell we preserve individual’s rights in the workplace. Smoking is something you may do on your own time or on approved breaks (like using your smart phone) and the conditions of where you can smoke is detailed as to prevent environmental tobacco smoke ETS from impeding on anybody’s individual right to clean breathing air in the workplace. Simple.
    I would like to finish with something for everyone to consider whether you smoke or not; It is not illegal to smoke but it is illegal to discriminate against others.

  9. We shouod hire smokers because it is legal in America and we do not live in the Islamic State where it is illegal and yes non smokers do take breaks to they just gossip….

  10. Well…..I agree with the guy from Canda it has nothing to do with your job…..This supposed be America land of the Free Employers should not be allowed to dictate to people what they do on their own time……

  11. At our workplace, we are allowed 1 hour worth of break however we would like to spend it. However, our 2 particular office smokers take anywhere from 4-12 smoke breaks per day usually ranging from 8-20 minutes in time per smoke break without clocking out. They never miss taking their 1 hour of lunch break either.

    One of the employees is salary, and one is hourly. They are both full time. The average time per day they spend smoking while clocked in is 2 hours per day. Plus, they take a one hour lunch every day. Whether they clock out for it or not. One of the smokers is a director and the other one is the director’s pet. So, they just change the time sheets to say what they want them to say.

    I’m not saying smoking should be banned entirely. I am saying that taking two hours of the day clocked in while taking a break is WRONG when all of the other employees must use 1 hour of break instead of the 3 that the smoker employees abusively get. They should at least put less hours on their time sheet. WHILE CLOCKED IN, THE EMPLOYEES ARE ON COMPANY TIME. This is where the problem arises.

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