It's not just smokers who waste time at work

A study claims that cigarette breaks cost Britain over £8bn a year in lost productivity

Share

The smoking area at Indy towers is always a hub of activity. It is here, standing ankle deep in cigarette butts with lungs full of delicious toxins, that deals are made, friendships are forged,  and time is, apparently, wasted.

According to a study for the British Heart Foundation, smoking breaks cost British businesses £8.4bn a year in lost productivity, as smokers disappear for 10 minutes at a time, four times a day.

The study, which was conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, showed that smoking breaks cost employers £1815 a year for each full time member of staff who sneaks off for a crafty one during working hours.

Smoking breaks have, however, always struck me as rather industrious. A non-smoker myself, I remember watching the news editor of the local paper I was interning at returning to the office with a junior reporter after a shared fag break. After much bluster and boyish back-slapping the pair settled back down to work, but not before they’d discussed which line to take on a story they were working on.

The non-smoking journalists, who had been getting on with their work in the meantime, were excluded from the decision, and I was put in mind of the episode of Friends where Rachel Green feels compelled to take up smoking after realising important company decisions are frequently made during cigarette breaks.

Networking opportunities aside, smoking breaks have become part of our daily routine and smokers claim they will be less productive if they’re not allowed to satisfy their cravings. Of the 2000 smokers who took part in the study, 88% said they went for a cigarette break when they were feeling stressed, thus implying that a nicotine fix helps ease work-related tensions. 

Legally, however, employers are not obligated to allow employees to take any smoking breaks at all, although employees working a shift of six hours or more are entitled to a 20-minute uninterrupted rest break.

There’s a strong argument too for allowing non-smokers to take longer lunch-breaks to account for the time their addicted colleagues spend puffing away. I have one friend who insists on having an extra fifteen minute breather during a shift at the bar she works at, to make up for the smoking breaks she doesn’t take. But where do you draw the line?

I don’t smoke but I probably while away just as much time checking Facebook or idly planning my next tweet. Heck, only this morning I was so transfixed by the Oscar Pistorius trial that I spent half an hour, eyes glued to my Twitter feed, waiting to find out if he would plead not guilty. And how much time do workers waste catching up on the weekend’s gossip in the toilets, queuing in the café for their next caffeine fix, or reading “15 Signs Your Supermarket Hates You” on Buzzfeed?

Employers have two options. They can either account for procrastinators (whether their vice is cigarettes, coffee or light-hearted listicles), factoring in time in the working day for staff to smoke, surf the net, or queue for the kettle; or they can crack down on time-wasting full stop, asking workers to clock in and out whenever they want to light up or read the latest celebrity gossip online.

Because lazy workers are canny and will find novel ways to fritter away the hours. In the time it has taken me to write this piece, I’ve checked my Facebook page 10 times, googled the Oscars, and spent at least twenty minutes reading Pistorius live updates. (I met my deadline so it’s okay, right?)

Smokers might be easy scapegoats for many things, but let’s not lay the blame for the nation’s lack of productivity entirely at their cigarette-strewn door.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own