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Colborn’s Corner: Up in smoke


Sunday sees the advent of the new rules relating to smoking within England. While I'm sure we all know the main provisions by now, what impact will they have on businesses across the UK as England comes into lines with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? How easy will the rules be to apply and will all employers enforce them? This week Quentin takes a look at practically living with the new rules.


Few managers can claim to be unaware of the new rules surrounding smoking, a mixture of TV adverts, articles in various types of media and direct mailing from the government have all brought the message home. New policies are written and the correct signs are in place, so everything is ready to go – really?

While I’m sure the vast majority of well organised businesses are ready for the rules, how prepared are they for when the rules don’t fit or people don’t follow them? Call me a cynic if you like, but I’m not convinced that smoking at work will totally stop in England when 1st July starts. Company vehicles will doubtless have stickers in place (70mm diameter in England, 75mm in Wales for the benefit of pedants!) but will it stop smoking? Somehow I doubt it.

I have a feeling that while policies and procedures are in place, smoking will still go on. Let me paint a scenario. Successful sales manager, prestige car (but not a convertible!), high performer – who also smokes. Will he/she stop smoking in their car? Probably not. Will the employer do anything about it? Probably not.

A different scenario. High pressure strategy meeting following an attempted takeover bid. Tensions are running high, meeting rolls on past 10pm, crucial that a decision is met before a midnight deadline – but a member of the board smokes. Will they leave the building for that all important cigarette? I doubt it!

What this all makes me question is how organisations treat rules that are inconvenient, and what view does, or should, the HR team take about this?

Firstly, I have to say that I do not believe that HR should be seen as the corporate police officer. To my mind HR is there to support and advise the management team in addressing people issues, we are not a ‘go between’ or industrial social worker – or ‘enforcer’ of the rules. That must be a line management role; we can advise but it is their responsibility. What we must do though is, where appropriate, point out any inconsistencies in the application of company (or statutory) rules. After all, when a dismissal runs into trouble because of inconsistency, who will the managers come to?

Secondly we should not be seen as the recipient of ‘causes’. Too often I hear comments to the effect: “Do that and I’ll tell HR”, as if HR is there to put all the wrongs right!

If people, even at the top of an organisation, break the rules it should not be down to HR to put them to rights. So when you hear whispers about smoking after hours, don’t reach for the disciplinary policy or staff handbook, look for the internal phone book and point the whisperer in the direction of the appropriate director. Let them sort out the split loyalties – that’s what they are paid for!

Where have you seen your organisation bend the rules? What did you feel able to do about it? Does whistle blowing protection really make any difference? Let us have some of your examples and stories.

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via [email protected]


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