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

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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'