Since the demise of the office smoking room in Scotland in 2006 and the rest of the UK in 2007, workers have been forced to brave the cold to get their nicotine fix.
The site of smokers huddled together under a cloud of smoke outside office blocks has become a familiar site up and down the UK.
And with smoking breaks now visible for all to see, it has raised some interesting questions about whether cigarette breaks should be allowed and what staff are legally entitled to.
Cigarette Break: A smoker gets more breaks during the day…..
I’m sure if you work in an office that you will have heard this conversation on more than one occasion.
I’ve never smoked, but I can remember working in a team of smokers who would regularly pop outside together for 15 minutes at a time to get their fix. At the time I remember feeling like billy no mates, sitting alone at my desk continuing to work whilst the kids had their fun outside.
I always used to rib them for spending a large chunk of the day behind the bike sheds in a haze of smoke, leaving muggings here to man the fort.
A survey published in 2009 by www.onepoll.com illustrated that a smoker spends an average of an hour a day on a cigarette break; usually consisting of four 15-minute breaks a day, or a whopping year over their working life.
Although these extra breaks can sometimes raise tension amongst non-smoking staff members, the reality is that many non-smokers probably waste just as much time during the day on social media, chatting or making personal calls.
Cigarette Break: Companies are fighting back
As frustrated as the non-smoking staff are, imagine how exasperated employers feel as their staff repeatedly disappear into a haze of cigarette smoke, worthy of an entrance on ‘Stars in their eyes’.
But are employers legally obliged to allow their staff regular breaks during the day, regardless of whether that break is used to smoke? It may surprise many to hear that the Working Time Regulations stipulate that UK employees (with a few exceptions) are entitled to just one unpaid 20-minute break during a working day of longer than six hours.
This quashes the arguments of smokers and non-smokers alike who think that they are legally entitled to multiple breaks during the working day.
A few years ago I saw this put into practice when I started work as a Marketing Manager with a business that employed over 4,000 staff. I discovered on my first working day that the lunch break was a miserly 30 minutes. I honestly thought somebody was winding me up!
I’ve written in the past about the importance of taking a lunch break and how vital it is to re-energise for the second half of the day. The 30 minute lunch break I was given simply didn’t feel long enough to mentally recharge for the afternoon.
Personally I think that this particularly business put the 30 minute lunch rule in place confidently knowing that most people would simply eat a sandwich at their desk and work through.
Companies may feel that taking this antediluvian approach to lunch breaks will give them the ability to squeeze an extra 30 mins of productivity from their workforce, but I know a lot of people in that company who were flagging in the afternoon as a result of the short lunch.
Businesses who give their staff a decent lunch break will benefit from staff that have replenished energy levels which should lead to a much more productive and happy workforce.
Cigarette Break: The importance of regular breaks
Unlike the Dickensian style 30 minute lunch break of the example above, I think most modern businesses understand the benefits of allowing their staff regular breaks during the day.
Surprisingly Britons work some of the longest hours in Europe but are actually amongst the least productive. So with siestas unlikely to be introduced into the UK any time soon, it is vital that we Brits get into the habit of sporadically getting up and stretching our legs every now and again, away from the computer screen that we spend some much of our working day staring at.
Even a 5 minute trip to the kitchen to make a simple cup of tea can recharge the batteries, even if you do bump into Steve and have to pretend to be interested about his battle re-enactment in Windsor at the weekend!
Cigarette Break: The future of the cigarette break
With more and more companies clamping down, what does the future hold for the humble fag break?
For the unfortunate staff at Breckland Council in Norfolk they now have to clock in and out for smoking breaks, something many employees in both the public and private sector have introduced.
But surely breaks should be for everybody and unless this clocking-out policy applies to all kind of breaks, it merely victimises the poor smoker.
A possible alternative to popping out for a quick smoke arrived a few years ago when we saw an influx of E-cigarettes, marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes.
However, recent studies have suggested that electronic cigarettes may not be a safe alternative after all and some companies have panicked and banned the use of these in shared office spaces until further tests are made.
Cigarette break: Conclusion
I can understand many companies frustration at members of staff who take regular cigarette breaks during the day. But perhaps the smokers were right all along. Perhaps we really don’t get enough time away from our desks.
Most of us take a natural break from time to time, whether it’s a quick glance at our phone, a browse of the web or that trip to the kitchen to chat to Steve about his Roundhead exploits.
The key for employers is trust. If you are happy with the productivity of your staff, then allow them the odd few minutes here and there, even if it to catch a sneaky fag outside!
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