Two months after smokers were literally shown the door, has the smoking ban had any real impact upon the workplace? Aside from ruining post-work drinks by exposing the terrible smell of many pubs underneath that ashtray stench, has the ban affected motivation and retention, or can there actually be smoke without fire? Sarah Fletcher asks members of HR Zone.
Before the smoking ban came into force on 1 July 2007, commentators across the country prophesied doom; predicting serious consequences for both the service industry and companies that inflicted added restrictions upon smokers.
Motivation would plummet, staff would expire at their desks with the horror of being forbidden a cigarette until home time, and everyone would die of hyperthermia as they shuddered through blizzards just to have a cigarette. Was the apocalypse really nigh, or has the smoking ban failed to wreak the catastrophe that it promised?
“There was much heralding of disaster, but in fact, it came with a whimper rather than a bang,” says HR manager Fiona Fritz. “Most offices already had a smoking ban in place. Smokers had been isolated in smoking rooms or outside, and the ‘fag break’ was just as common as it is now. The people who have really benefited are those in hospitality – they no longer have to passively smoke in pubs, restaurants and clubs, and put their health at risk.”
In fact, although it might be lonely for non-smokers when the pub table suddenly clears as everyone piles outside for a cigarette, this seems to be the only damage caused by the ban. As consultant Nik Kellingley puts it – “it hasn’t rocked the world” – but has it rocked the office? According to Anne Harley, HR director for the RSPB, new restrictions on smoking have caused a few grumbles, and that’s about it.
“RSPB has been non-smoking for more than 10 years, although there have been some outdoor areas [such as] porches, where smoking was allowed and now is prohibited. The latest ban caused little upset, although one or two non-smokers said they thought it was a bit harsh.”
No major change
Although there may be complaints, this is hardly the full-blown war forecast by some critics. In fact, as there haven’t been any major changes to many companies’ smoking policies, this is hardly surprising.
Harley argues that imposing such detailed rules and making it a criminal offence to smoke on the premises is “a bit draconian”, but the working environment is improved as a result.
Although she thinks it unnecessary to ban smoking in a porch “just because it has three sides and a roof”, it makes the entrance to the RSPB buildings much more pleasant for both employees and visitors; which indirectly should improve business operations.
Unless you like the boost of inhaling other people’s cigarette smoke, not being forced to fight your way through a cloud of fog to get into the office is likely to boost morale, rather than destroy it; and this is supported by the experience of New Zealand, which banned smoking at work in 1990.
New Zealand based HR consultant Don Rhodes argues that 17 years on since the legislation was introduced, even smokers appreciate being able to work and socialise in a clean environment.
“In the workplace, there is no doubt that offices and staff rooms are now much more inviting,” he argues. “Speaking to health officials, they are convinced the absence of passive smoke is contributing greatly to the health of non-smokers.”
Smokers weren’t overly bothered by the ban, Rhodes recalls, as they “shrugged their shoulders and enjoyed their indulgence outside in the cold”.
Don Rhodes, HR consultant
In England and Wales, we’ve seen a similar reaction. In fact, it may even be positive for the romantic wellbeing of the nation; as commentators report on ‘smirting’ – flirting with other smokers as they stand outside bars and workplaces. So now both our love lives and our lungs have been given an extra lease of life, should we all embrace the smoking ban as a purely positive thing?
However, there still remains one particularly contentious issue: does a cigarette break invigorate you with the motivation to put your non-smoking colleagues to shame?
Kellingley argues that smokers are more productive because they take regular breaks, whilst Rhodes champions the opposite side: “There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest an improvement by not smoking during work hours. Managers consistently comment on how much more work is done than previously, especially in workplaces where there are or were a large number of smokers.
“There have also been instances where managers identify less ‘bickering’ among staff where non smokers would oftentimes feel they were doing the bulk of the work while smokers nicked out for their hourly ‘fix’,” he adds.
It seems, then, that the real sore spot lies not in whether the smoking ban has affected workplace morale, but whether cigarette breaks are the real root cause of conflict. Is it time for further restrictions on employees, or is this likely to all go up in smoke? Only time – and learning through experience – will tell.