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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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Column Should Irish companies give non-smokers extra days off?
Japanese companies are offering non-smoking staff an additional six days paid annual leave to make up for the breaks smokers take, writes Jason O’Callaghan.

FEW PEOPLE OUTSIDE the field of psychology will have ever heard of the ‘Hawthorn effect’, an experiment conducted in the 1920s aimed at improving productivity in workers.

Factory staff had their working conditions changed in regards to lighting, working hours, rest breaks and so on. In all cases their productivity improved and absenteeism plummeted when a change was made.

The experimenters concluded that it was not the changes in physical conditions that were affecting the workers’ productivity. Rather, it was the fact that someone was actually concerned about their workplace.

Happy employees are productive employees

Today companies are all about “concern” for employees, from corporate wellness, to mindfulness, sleep pods, team building days out, counselling sessions on demand, yoga and monthly massages.

But ultimately companies only really want to help their bottom lines by having a workforce that is healthier and more efficient. The happier the employee the more productive they are, and the less chance they will leave for pastures new.

So, when it comes to smoking in the workplace and employee wellbeing Japanese companies have been leading the way in industrial psychology. The latest incentives are to help staff to quit smoking by offering non-smoking staff an additional six days paid annual leave to make up for the breaks smokers take during the day.

Victimising smokers?

As good willed as this sounds it is now leading to an outpouring of smokers claiming they are being victimised (yet again) and nonsmokers cheering in delight. Those who are on the fence (mostly scratching their heads), are wondering how you would implement such a policy in Irish companies?

As we were the first to bring in the smoking ban and one of the first in the world who are bringing in plain packaging on cugarettes, should we now take the bull by the horns and use this method to get more smokers to quit and in return reward them with paid leave and have a healthier and more efficient workforce? After all the stats say 70% of smokers want to quit anyway?

How do you stop people claiming they are not smoking anymore and just taking the days off? How do you police it and who would do the policing? The Smoke Police?

Working one month less per year

In the end, if two employees are doing the same job for the same salary and one is a smoker and is in a position to slip out a few times a day for a smoke break, they are working one less month per year than their non-smoking workmate. But, both get the same money. Non-smokers are bound to feel hard done by and therefore are screaming out loud: “I want my extra holiday to make up for the smokers’ breaks.”

If you look at the numbers for a smoker, with just four cigarette breaks a day, working out at 15 mins each, that’s one hour a day not working (providing those breaks are not official breaks etc). This is 5 hours a week, 20 hours a week, 2.5 days a month and one full month a year. Now, it’s starting to sounds like the non-smokers are owed some time off.

Will they get more extra time off? Will Irish companies embrace the idea? Will non-smoker riot, unless the holidays are given or the smoke breaks stop? This issue is far from over, but the subject will lead to more dirty looks across the office when someone decides to slip out for a quick fag.

Jason O’Callaghan is a psychologist, registered as a graduate member of The Psychology Society of Ireland and works as a stop smoking therapist in The D4 Clinic Blackrock.

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Jason O'Callaghan


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