Monday 3 March 2014

Smoking breaks revisited

From The Guardian:

Smoking breaks at work cost British businesses £8.4bn a year, study finds

Cigarette breaks at work cost British businesses £8.4bn a year in lost productivity of smokers who disappear for a cigarette for 10 minutes four times a day, new research reveals.

We've been through this before, haven't we? It's quite simple...

1. All workers are entitled to breaks by law. Nonsmokers use them to have a coffee. Smokers use them to have a coffee and a cigarette.

2. The relationship between minutes worked and worker output is not as crudely linear as these kind of studies assume. Productivity has increased greatly in the last 100 years despite working hours falling. The three day week saw a surprising small reduction productivity despite working hours being reduced by 40 per cent. "The goal isn’t really to do more; it’s to accomplish more."

3. There is evidence that work breaks make employees more productive.

4 There is evidence that nicotine improves performance in many areas.

5. Most - probably all - jobs involve periods of intense activity and periods of relative quiet. A break taken at a moment when you would otherwise be hanging around (waiting for a delivery, having your computer fixed, etc.) cannot affect your productivity.

6. If smoking breaks cost business £8.4bn, then nonsmoking breaks - assuming 30 minutes a day and a smoking prevalence of 20 per cent - must cost something in the region of £24bn. Should we ban work breaks or do we accept that breaks make for a happier, less error-prone and more productive work force?

7. If smoking breaks made smokers less productive than nonsmokers, employers would have got wise to it by now and stopped employing them. The fact that very few companies discriminate against smokers suggests that they know better. The few that do discriminate against them (eg. the WHO) do so for ideological reasons, not efficiency reasons.

8. Even if smoking breaks reduced productivity, it would - strictly speaking - be an externality created by smoking bans, not smoking per se.


Unknown said...

Although many good points, this is the killer point in my opinion:

8. Even if smoking breaks reduced productivity, it would - strictly speaking - be an externality created by smoking bans, not smoking per se.

It is quite clear, at least in Denmark, that private productivity crashed right after the smoking ban came into effect in Danish workplaces. See evidence and graph in the end of this article:

Science is conclusive: Tobacco increases work capacity

Steve Crook said...

About point 8. I've never smoked, and I'm old enough to have worked in offices where smoking was common.

I used to take regular breaks from my desk to get relief from cigarette smoke, particularly when someone working close by lit up.

So did many of the other non smokers I worked with.

We've forced a different group of people to spend time outside the office. I don't know if there's actually been any net change.

Unknown said...

Well, obviously there has been a net change. Private productivity has crashed after the implementaion of nation-wide workplace bans - thus something must be wrong about these bans.

And we know what it is: It is meaningless to force anybody out of office against their will. Especially when employees are forced off the premises. No one should have to leave the workplace just because someone wants to smoke - neither the smoker or the non-smoker.

But this can easily be achieved by any employer with divisions of the workforce in combination with modern ventilation techniques.

Unfortunately neither governments nor the pharma industries want that. They are more interested in pushing smokers into buying nicotine replacement drugs, and not really interested in higher private productivity.

Steve Crook said...

It's all very well to say that measures should be taken to allow smokers to smoke in the building, but whatever measures you take, they're unlikely to allow smokers to remain at their desks, smoke and work. They're also likely to be a cost, and given the decline in smoking it's probably uneconomic to modify existing workplaces.

There's a quote: "Having smoking and non smoking sections in plane/boat/restaurant/office/etc is like having urinating and non urinating sections in a swimming pool".

I'll confess to having little sympathy for modern smokers. Particularly recent starters. They know (or should know) what the environment is like. I spent too many years getting home and having to bung clothes that stank of smoke straight in the wash...

At least those of my parents generation could say they were suckered into it before anyone knew there was a health risk.

Unknown said...

Most arguments for smoking bans rest on silly propaganda quotes. What has swimming pools got to do with it? Nothing. In fact people incl. children DO urinate in swimming pools every day. And then what?

That's not the point. The point is the productivity, and yes - smoking at desks can happen without bothering anyone. It is possible with simple low-cost techniques. There is no argument against that.

Your sympathies and clothes washing schemes many years ago are not really relevant to the question of productivity either.

They do represent a cost to society however, when Governments implement smoking bans to please people with your "sympathies" - as you may know low productivity means higher taxes and a poorer society.

As for the "decline in smoking": No - smoking in GB has not declined since the smoking ban in 2007:

Smoking rate, GB 2000-2012