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Workplace smoke breaks can, but need not be counterproductive

BREAKS made by smokers daily rob Slovak companies of the labour equivalent of 27,000 companies, the Sme daily found out.

(Source: Sme)

Asking eight big and medium-sized companies with electronic attendance cards for data, the daily learned that employees smoke for 28 minutes of their daily work-time on average.

This means the working population smokes for 215,000 working hours per day; and thus, the smoking pauses swallow up the daily work of 26,879 employees. The data does not include lunch breaks and the companies which do not register a break shorter than 10 minutes.

Read also: Read also:Now it's really time to quit smoking

Some of the companies strictly limit smoking breaks, while others rely on the discretion of their workers. Too much smoking can even cause sackings for some of them.

“A smoker who is not available for his colleagues and clients lowers his performance and contributes to the negative atmosphere in a team for the unequal time frame dedicated to work,” psychologist Alena Bednárová opined for Sme.

If companies detect excessive breaks through electronic system of chip cards, they usually have to work overtime to compensate for them.

“We have a certain minimum of minutes which the system does not register,” Zuzana Hošalová of the Eset company said. “If smoker leaves for just a brief pause, the system does not record it – only if he is away from his workplace for slightly longer. We inform employees on the precise limit when they are hired.”

“If the person is a chain smoker, someone showing physical and mental signs of addition, the smoking break is a necessity for him without which his work concentration, and thus also whole effectiveness and work performance would rapidly decline,” Bednárová said, adding that employer need not accept this fact, however.

If companies stated in their job announcements they could be perceived as discriminatory, psychologist said, and revealed that they usually use a more delicate wording, writing they “prefer non-smokers”.  

Human resources experts say that it is mainly type of job that influence policies on smoking. For prevailing headwork like managerial positions, smoking breaks are no problem. But non-smokers are preferred for drivers, cooks, guards or financial advisors. Also the selection of chemical factories and oil refineries employees is somewhat more strict. 

“Smoking breaks are usually completely forbidden in production companies where the constant presence of employees on workplace is inevitable,” LMC industrial company spokesman Tomáš Dombrovský told Sme. Thus, they have to use the lunch break of 30 minutes that is secured by law for all employees.

Some companies do not follow their workers’ breaks at all, especially when the work is creative.

“There are cases when this bad habit can break ice,” Bednárová explained. “It can, for example, speed up a lengthy negotiation. During a smoking break, partners can achieve an agreement – which is in fact not the result of smoking, but the informal atmosphere during a break can help. It is a sort of five minutes of ceasefire,” she explained.

Similarly, smoking pause during brainstorming can lead to a sudden  idea. Again, this is not the result of cigarettes and smoking, but rather of the brain continuously working on a solution, although the person already does another, unrelated, activity.

Slovakia is in the lower part of the chart which shows OECD statistics of percentage of smokers among adult population: 19.5 percent for Slovakia is better than its neighbours, and many other countries, with the exception of Nordic states. The biggest smokers are Greeks, Irish and Hungarians. 

Another study, exploring the smoking habits within the European Union, shows that although 26 percent of EU inhabitants still smoke, the youths are giving up on the habit: 25 percent of those aged between 15 and 24 do smoke which is 4 percent better than in 2012. The poll also showed that most of those asked are for strict political measures connected with tobacco and electronic cigarettes – even if this meant more expensive tobacco products. 

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