Last week, Japanese firm Piala hit the headlines with the news that it has introduced up to six additional days paid holiday per year for the non smokers in its workforce to counterbalance the smoking breaks taken by their colleagues. The company is based on the 29th floor of an office block, so employees spend at least 10 to 15 minutes away from their desk each time they take a smoking break.
The leave, which was introduced following staff suggestions to help improve employee health and reform working practices, can only be taken by individuals who declare that they have not smoked for a year.
As well as equalising time spent away from work for smokers and non-smokers, the policy may also act as an incentive for some smokers to kick the habit. After all, the idea of up to six extra days to spend away from the workplace with family and friends may be a lot more appealing than numerous short breaks spent in a lift and standing outside their office building.
Increasing the number of non-smokers in their workforce would also benefit employers. A number of studies, such as The benefits of quitting smoking on work productivity and impairment in the United States, the European Union and China, published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice in January 2017, have identified lower levels of productivity, alongside higher absence and presenteeism rates among smokers. However, these have shown potential for improvement once an individual has ceased smoking.
I’m sure the move will also go some way towards improving morale among the organisation’s non-smokers. As a non-smoker myself, I can fully appreciate how frustrating it must be, particularly during busy periods, to watch colleagues step away for a break but not having a reason, or feeling able, to do the same.
Under UK law, all employees are entitled to a 20-minute break for every six hours that they work. In reality, however, many organisations trust their employees to structure their own working day to a certain degree, offering greater flexibility around breaks. In these instances, smokers may well take more, or longer, breaks than non-smoking colleagues.
So, should more employers follow Piala’s lead?
Or should organisations encourage all employees to take more regular breaks during the working day in order to boost concentration levels or support factors such as computer screen users’ visual health?