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Smokers are Less Productive. Oh, Really?

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Thinking further about yesterday’s post on portfolio careers, it occurred to me that another reason why I enjoy working from my sofa is because I can have a cigarette break whenever I want. While I’m not a chain-smoker, I am partial to the odd cancer-stick and usually have a pack and my Zippo close to hand when I’m working.

Smokers are not in favour when it comes to businesses, as they are more likely to have health problems, and their frequent trips away from their desks to partake of a puff have led to studies “showing” that they are less productive than their non-smoking colleauges. But is this really the case?

One of the companies I worked for in the past was filled with smokers. The head of IT? Rolled his own. The head of sales? Marlboro Reds. The accountant who made sure we all got paid? Silk Cut. Our Ferrari-driving CEO? Another Marlboro man. And they were the executives I was closest to, because we chatted to each other while we were on cigarette breaks.

It turns out that smoking is a very effective way for staff from different departments to meet each other and network. I would normally never have had any reason to talk to the CEO, but shared cigarette breaks meant that I was able to talk to him without first having to refer to my supervisor (although my supervisor was brilliant, and another smoker).

Eventually, on the strength of a nicotine-fuelled conversation about the weaknesses in our CRM system, I was able to give myself an unofficial promotion. I spent much more time talking to the IT and sales department and far less on my job description, a lowly customer service operative. And I never had to call a meeting or phone for information, because I could find all of the people I needed to talk to at the bottom of the fire escape.

This isn’t to imply that smokers are part of a company clique who are conspiring against all the non-smokers within a business. But they do get opportunities to network and liaise informally in a way their nicotine-independent colleagues do not. While it may appear that the number of cigarette breaks that they take throughout the day means that they are doing less work, that isn’t to say that they are not thinking and talking about the business while they are having a cigarette.

Employee productivity should be measured in terms of end results, rather than how busy a person appears to be. I can tap away at my keyboard for hours; but I’m not completing your report, I’m chatting on a forum and looking up the price of gig tickets. Give me a deadline and I will sweat blood for you. Just don’t tell me that taking a 7.5 minute (I’ve timed myself) break with a Richmond somehow stops me from working. Smokers can think and inhale simultaneously. If the quality of my end-product does not suffer, I ought to be allowed as many cigarette breaks as I please.

And my cigarette-induced unofficial promotion? Led to a new system for tracking client orders that lowered the number of angry customers who rang in about missing products. Not very unproductive, if you ask me.

[Image by 3Pom]

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