31 Oct

To smoke or not to smoke, that is the question

To smoke or not to smoke, that is the question…

Japanese company Piala Inc is giving non-smoking employees up to six extra annual leave days to make up for the extra work they do while smoking employees take cigarette breaks. Piala introduced this scheme after it appeared that smokers in the company took an extra fifteen minutes for each cigarette break. Piala’s CEO was quoted as saying that he did not want to penalise staff for smoking but rather incentive them. (Irish Independent, 2017)

As a non-smoker, I have also worked in organisations where it was the norm for colleagues to have three, four, and sometimes even more frequent smoke breaks each working day, with break probably lasting the goods of ten minutes, And yes, I found it unfair that my smoking colleagues seemed to have this privilege over us non-smokers. It frustrated me that management did not address the inequity of the situation and did not do anything to discourage staff from continuing this unhealthy habit.


In the case of Piala, who employs roughly 120 staff of which 35%, i.e. fourty-two employees smoke (The Mainichi, 2017) it has seen 25% of the company’s staff take extra days off, while four employees felt motivated enough by this scheme to quit smoking. (Irish Independent, 2017) While I agree with the principles of what Piala is trying to do, i.e. closing the inequity gap, I’m not too sure if it is the right solution to the problem. Firstly it must be very costly and inefficient to the organisation to facilitate the significant increase in annual leave across the organisation, year on year. Secondly, if only four out of fourty-two employees quit smoking so far, in my opinion Piala missed the mark completely.


In Elm Solutions we regard our employees as our most valuable resource. We genuinely want the best for our people and enable this among others by actively encouraging and facilitating a healthy life balance. From a HR point of view, we have a duty of care towards our employees and investing in helping employees to quit smoking is very much part of this duty. Therefore a ‘quit-smoking course’ is available to all employees of Elm Solutions as part of our flexible benefit package.


We are lucky in Elm with regards to smoking habits as none of our current employees are smokers. Although it is not a criterion within our recruitment process, this statistic perhaps is not surprising as it can be viewed as a testament to the core beliefs and values that we seek from our employees. However, if we were to identify a similar issue as what Piala experienced my aim would be to decrease the number of smoking employees in the organisation rather than to incentivise the non-smokers. Not only from a strategic and operational point of view this makes much more sense, most importantly it would evidently have a huge long-term impact on the quality of life of our people. I always like to think that working in HR, you can change people’s lives. Be it by believing in someone’s skills and giving them that one opportunity they need, by helping them to grow their talent, by supporting them in important life changes they may be going through and by helping them to become and stay healthy. HR is holistic. And so the answer is: not to smoke…


Irish Independent, 2017. Independent.ie Newsdesk. [Online]
Available at: https://www.independent.ie/world-news/asia-pacific/company-gives-nonsmokers-extra-paid-leave-to-make-up-for-smokers-breaks-36273022.html
The Mainichi, 2017. The Mainichi. [Online]
Available at: https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20171028/p2a/00m/0na/018000c