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Are smoking breaks at work justified?

ST ILLUSTRATION: LUIS MISTADES

Publication Date : 03-09-2012

 

Smokers do not have it easy these days.

They have to deal not only with the bans that have been extended to more public areas, but also the in-your-face anti-smoking campaigns and possible rage from those who do not light up.

They may also face displeasure from non-smoking colleagues for taking frequent smoking breaks at work.

A recent survey by JobStreet.com showed that Singaporeans at work take one to four smoking breaks of five to 10 minutes each a day, or up to 40 minutes in all.

But the survey also found that non-smokers were less concerned with how this might affect productivity in general than with the harmful effects of inhaling second-hand smoke.

The common peeve among non-smokers was the lingering smell that trailed smokers after their puff, said the survey, which had 2,300 respondents, of whom 19 per cent were smokers.

It added that while employees might not consider smoking a hindrance to productivity, employers were likely to suffer the brunt of it through increased absenteeism and lower levels of concentration among staff.

"As we all know that, generally, smokers take more breaks than non-smokers during work hours, there should be some rules to regulate the breaks or put a limit on them," said Anthony Peck, general manager of HRSingapore.

"Allowing smokers to take smoking breaks whenever they feel the need may lead to abuse, and non-smokers will eventually complain."

Sourcing manager G. Byron, a non-smoker who works in a company that has quite a number of smokers, does not complain, but he feels entitled to a long morning coffee break.

This means sitting down at a coffee shop nearby with his colleagues, which can take about 20 minutes or more.

He reasons that his smoker colleagues take several smoking breaks each day, and these easily add up to longer than the 20-minute break he takes.

Peck said some smokers may feel that smoking can increase their productivity as it allows them to relax and generate new ideas, but the frequent absenteeism from their work stations may be distracting to non-smoking colleagues or cause disruption to the work process.

To be fair to smokers, they say it is not only them who take frequent breaks; it is just that theirs are more noticeable. They say the non-smokers may take more coffee breaks, be updating their Facebook pages at work or even doing some online shopping.

Besides, smoking helps alleviate stress at work, they say. Some smokers also believe they can produce more work when pacified by cigarettes.

But actress Pam Oei, who is also a therapist and director of Allen Carr's Easyway to Stop Smoking Singapore, said that is like saying someone who bangs his head against the wall is unable to do work, but when he stops banging, he becomes more productive.

"A smoker who wants to have a cigarette but can't have one will be unable to concentrate on anything else. The moment he lights up, he is able to concentrate again," she said.

"The cigarette is not the solution, the cigarette is the problem because non-smokers don't ever have this worry with pacification or concentration."

Oei, who smoked for 17 years, said smokers will come up with any number of excuses to justify and rationalise their habit.

"Smoking increases your heart rate, so it is not possible that you physically feel less stressed when you light up; it is psychological... And the only anxiety that smokers get rid of when they light up is the aggravation caused by the craving of nicotine," she said.

As Peck also pointed out, smokers may be disadvantaged at some small and medium-sized companies that ban smoking during working hours and within company premises.

And smokers may face a lower chance of being employed at these companies compared with non-smokers, he said.

For those looking to quit smoking, this may be the time to just do it.

 

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