Smoke Breaks

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about non-smoker breaks:

A co-worker that is a smoker takes a smoke break every 15 minutes, while non-smokers do not get breaks. When a non-smoker finally gets tired of not getting a break and takes one, the supervisor questions why the employee is taking a break. When the non-smoker points out that some smokers are taking smoke breaks every 15 minutes, while this is the non-smokers first and only break, the supervisor says who cares and demands the non-smoker immediately get back to work. Why is it o.k. for the smoker to get a break every 15 minutes, while the non-smoker is expected to work without any breaks?

Signed, No Smoking Please

Dear No Smoking Please:

There is probably much more going on than just your concern about someone taking a smoke break. It sounds as though you and your supervisor don’t deal very well together and that you are resentful about other work situations. However, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to provide extra break times for smokers. There should be lunch and personal breaks for all employees and that is when they can smoke. There should not be extra breaks. But, that is a matter for HR or the highest level of management to decide. Perhaps you can ask for the matter to be reviewed, since I’m sure there are plenty of non-smokers who feel the same way.

The problem often is that the non-smoker will not discuss the matter, they’ll just decide to take a break outside and be obvious about it, as a protest. They could have gone to the break room, bathroom or just gotten a soda and relaxed a bit, but instead they stand around indoors or outdoors in an obvious way to say, “See? I can take a break too.”That’s when being a jerk sets in and everyone loses their sympathy for the non-smoker. I will hope you didn’t take that approach.The right way to handle it is to either ask that smokers be limited in breaks or that all employees be allowed to leave the building or the immediate work area for a few minutes several times a day, as they need it. If there is so little communications and positive feelings that such an approach won’t be helpful then the smoke breaks are probably the least of the problems.

You have written about several issues. I hope you’ll use this as a way to open up a conversation about a variety of things that seem to be problems to you. Ask for input about how your behavior and performance is viewed and give input about how frustrated you are with work.You may find that this specific workplace is not a good fit for you or you for it. Or, you may be able to solve some things that could help at least a little bit.Best wishes to you.

Tina Lewis Rowe