Sat11252017

LAST_UPDATESat, 25 Nov 2017 2am

Should Non-Smokers Get Extra Paid Leave For Not Taking Smoke Breaks At Work?

Would getting extra paid leave be enticing enough for you to quit taking smoke breaks at work?

Apparently it is for some employees at Japanese marketing firm, Piala Inc, as employees are opting to quit smoking to enjoy the benefits of more paid leaves for non-smokers.

This came about when one of the company’s employees, who does not smoke, filed a complaint saying that it is unfair for non-smokers to work more hours than their colleagues who smoke and that it is affecting productivity.

Taking into consideration that smokers take around 15 minutes per smoke break, the company is now compensating the non-smokers by rolling out an initiative known as ‘Sumokyu’ – word play using ‘smoke’ and a Japanese word for ‘break’ – that gives an extra six day paid leave to non-smokers as they want to encourage their employees to quit smoking through incentives than coercion.

There hasn’t been any news about companies introducing the same policy here in Malaysia but Malaysian Digest wanted to hear Malaysians’ thoughts on how they would feel about this policy, and the possibilities of exploring it here.

Would Smokers Quit Smoking For More Leave?

The non-smokers we spoke with generally agreed that the policy is a good effort to get people to stop smoking and they will not turn down the offer of more paid leaves for not taking smoke breaks despite having plenty of public holidays peppered throughout the year on top of their annual leaves.

However, they said that it would not necessarily improve productivity at work as there are those who take breaks that do not involve smoking and thus would not be fair to be granted to all and sunder just because they do not smoke.

And for smokers, the lure of extra paid leave is quite difficult to resist as Rifqi, 24, said that it is not only a good thing but it could also be one of the reasons for him to stop smoking, if companies introduce this policy here.

However, he does not agree with the notion that non-smokers should get extra paid leave because despite taking smoke breaks, he argues that employees’ productivity is not affected since he sees smokers continue to focus on their work again after they get their puffs in.

He quipped that although non-smokers don’t take smoke breaks, they do take time off gossiping or doing something else.

“So I don’t think it should be an argument that smokers take more time off during the day because if we take smoke breaks and still manage to finish up our work on time, then it shouldn't be a problem,” the accountant said.

For illustration purposes onlyFor illustration purposes only

Similarly, Eileen, 24, said that an extra paid leave would triumph over her societal desire to light a cigarette and smoke with her colleagues.

“Also, sometimes I work during the weekend or public holidays, which unfortunately can’t be claimed as replacement hours, so I think I deserve the extra annual leaves,” the corporate communications executive at a pharmaceutical company complained.

As someone who has constantly been able to meet the dailies, weekly and monthly KPIs despite taking smoke breaks, she has some choice of words to say to her colleagues who do not smoke but take a different kind of break.

“If you’re going to complain about me taking smoke breaks, then it is only fair that I relay my grievances relating to your need to take naps and gossip and watch YouTube,” she said.

Syafiq, 29, on the other hand said that he would consider not smoking during office hours since he could forego smoke breaks and just smoke during lunch.

“But I don’t agree if smokers were given extra days off if they don’t smoke during office hours because it would be unfair to other people,” he said.

But he said that many things need to be taken into consideration if non-smokers were to bring up whether it is fair for smokers to get smoke breaks because those non-smokers might take a break by chatting with other colleagues during office hours, so they cannot complain about other people’s breaks.

Collectively, all smokers agree that their productivity should not be questioned because not everyone who takes smoke breaks are lagging behind in their tasks.

Will The Policy Work In Malaysia?

Although his company does not have a written policy in regards to smoke breaks, a retired head of Human Resource for an oil and gas company shared that they do encourage all their employees to take rest breaks.

This includes encouraging them to take a five minute break every two hours to rest the eyes or wrists, or to stand up and walk around for five minutes as these are meant to give them a break from straining their eyes and for sitting a long period of time.

“But while the rest breaks were intended for the employees’ well-being, some have used it for their smoke break instead,” he explained, while adding that his company adheres to the Occupational Safety and Health regulations issued by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health under the Human Resources Ministry, whereby smoking within the workspace is prohibited, so the smokers resort to going down to the lobby and smoke outside the building.

For illustration purposes onlyFor illustration purposes only

When the issue of productivity is raised, he said that it depends on the individuals because some are able to perform effectively and efficiently after their smoke breaks, while some do not.

As such, he disclosed that he had received complaints from non-smoking employees who criticise their inefficient or unproductive colleagues by saying that their smoking breaks are the cause of their inefficiency, or that it is unfair for their smoking colleagues to take more breaks than them if they are efficient and productive.

“Companies unfortunately focus more on objectivity — so if the employee is still performing, then it doesn’t matter how often they take smoke breaks.

“But from a moral perspective, you can take your smoke breaks, but be sure to deliver and maybe do more than expected as you are taking more breaks than permissible after all.

“For me, you can take your breaks but ensure that you make up for the loss time by doubling your efficiency and productivity,” he highlighted.

However, he said that over his three decades of experience working in the company, idle conversations and loitering reduces productivity or efficiency of employees much more than smoke breaks.

Coming back to the issue at hand, the 60-year-old gentleman said that the policy taken by the Japanese firm will not work here in Malaysia as he is aware of how immoral some employees can be.

“Some employees, who are desperate, smoke in the loo or even the storage room.

“While I welcome the proposal to have smoke breaks regulated for the health of their colleagues, I do believe that awareness and education is more imperative.

“And I apologise for my lack of faith, but I think the suggestion will not be feasible as not all non-smokers outperform their smoking colleagues,” he opined.

Should Employers Consider Implementing The Policy?

Speaking from an employer’s perspective, Meor Rahman, 63, said that while only a small percentage of his employees take smoke breaks, his biggest issue with it is that some employees take smoke breaks far too often.

“Some take one twice in eight hours while some take one every hour. However, it does make me wonder if the ones who are able to still perform efficiently are able to perform well because they ‘utilise their smoke breaks well’ or they are naturally efficient.

“If it is the latter, I wonder if they can perform even better if they do not go for smoke breaks every hour,” he mused.

Although he is not pleased with his employees taking smoke breaks, he said that he would consider implementing the policy in his company but it would be based on the employees’ KPI and overall performance and attitude.

“Because it will not be fair; I still have employees who waste time by logging into their social media and chat away, talking on the phone and gossiping during work hours.

“Smoke breaks are a small chunk of wasted time. I understand that employees need their breaks, and I respect that, but again, the problem is their time management.

“Some people understand that their lunch break is one hour and they are allowed to take a five minute break every now and then, but some abuse it and take breaks for as long and as often as they please,” he groused.

He shared with us his company’s policy where employees are encouraged to take rest breaks, so while smokers use their ‘rest’ periods to go for a smoke, the non-smokers can use this time to rest their eyes, stretch, or go for a walk.

“But if they (the non-smokers) complain and say that their smoking colleagues are underperforming due to the frequency of their smoke breaks, then it will be brought up during the year-end review and the outcome of the review will be reflected in their bonuses,” he said.

Despite not personally approving of employees smoking during working hours, he concedes that he could not penalise them if they are delivering their duties.

However, Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, executive director of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), is strongly against this policy as he said that regardless of whether the employees complete their tasks despite taking the smoke breaks, it is still wrong for them because they are not putting in the hours that they have been contracted.

Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, MEF Executive DirectorDatuk Shamsuddin Bardan, MEF Executive Director“The kind of thing done by the Japanese firm may not be suitable for our context yet because I feel that if there is a study, and it finds that these smokers have taken about six days’ worth of working hours a year for their smoke breaks then it is only appropriate that those smokers be asked to put back the hours they have taken for the smoke breaks because smoke breaks are not normally considered as official time off and that should be at employees’ own time,” he elaborated.

He said that instead of granting more leave to employees, companies in Malaysia should relook at their policy if smokers insist that they want to take smoke breaks.

“Then that time should be monitored and the employees need to put back the hours they took for smoke breaks.

“I would say that this would be fairer to everybody rather than giving non-smoking employees extra paid leave,” he concluded.

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At present, the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) reveals 22.8 per cent of the population, or five million Malaysians, are smokers, and the Health Ministry statistics showed the number of cigarettes smoked increased from 18 billion sticks in 1998 to 23.7 billion sticks in 2015. With calls to recently increase the pricing per pack of cigarettes to RM50 still not deterring smokers, will granting extra paid leave be a good start? Guess we will never know unless it is implemented.

-mD