Half of UK workers say smoking breaks breed resentment among colleagues


Half of UK workers say smoking breaks breed resentment among colleagues

September 26, 2019

Fifty-three per cent of UK workers believe that smoking or vaping breaks during work hours causes resentment among non-smoker colleagues.

Almost three in five (58%) employees said they or their work colleagues smoke or vape during working hours – and take an average of three smoking breaks a day, according to Willis Towers Watson research.

Conversely, just over one third (36%) of non-smokers said they took regular breaks from their working tasks. Amongst those that said they didn’t, half (48%) said they were too busy to do so, 16% said they forget to, and 13% said they worried they would be viewed negatively by management.

“Resentment felt by non-smokers towards smokers may stem from the perceived allowances that are made for smokers by employers,” said Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson.

“There is a perception that smokers are automatically excused, whilst non-smokers feel the need to justify taking regular breaks.

“When one group is seen as having an unfair advantage over another, it can lead to tension and dissatisfaction, which can have a ripple effect on the morale of the entire workforce.

“Companies should consider how to deliver a consistent message to all employees about the wellbeing benefits of regular breaks, as well as make explicit what is acceptable and fair in terms of breaks, for smokers and non-smokers alike.  This will help clear up any ambiguity but will vary from business to business depending on the type of work undertaken and the prevailing culture.”

The research found that young workers are more worried about being judged for taking breaks.

Thirty-three per cent said they were afraid of being judged by management, compared to just seven per cent of workers aged 55 and over, while 21% of 18-24 year olds said they were fearful they would be judged by their co-workers, compared to just six per cent of workers aged 55 and over.

More than half of workers who don’t take regular breaks believe, that if they did, their health and wellbeing (52%) and productivity (55%) would be improved.

Just one third (38%) of workers said their employer or manager encourages all employees to take regular breaks.

“The ‘always-on’ culture that now exists, thanks largely in part to advances in technology, gives people flexibility and instant connectivity, but it also is in danger of tipping the delicate work/life balance,” added Blake.

“Younger workers have only ever known this ‘on-demand’ working environment, so may be more inclined to believe there is an expectation that they are always engaged and available.

“But with more than half of workers saying breaks would help boost wellbeing and productivity, it is clear that staff taking time out can be mutually-beneficial for employee and employer.

“It may be that regular breaks are encouraged during inductions, but this should not fall by the wayside when the employee is settled in.

“The importance of regular breaks, as a means of promoting self-care and emotional resilience, should be communicated to employees on a consistent basis, and appropriate, dedicated spaces created where possible. This will help keep breaks at the forefront of employees’ minds and allay concerns about being negatively judged for taking time out.”