Blowing smoke: Equal break time in the workplace

When smokers take smoking breaks, non-smokers can become resentful. The question is, why is this a problem?


Dear Bob ...

Our company is probably typical. Smokers take frequent breaks, congregating in the doorways to ignite, schmooze, and damage their lungs while the rest of us continue to do our jobs.

[ Also on InfoWorld, Bob offers counsel on the two sides of office politics, and knowing the difference | Get sage IT career advice from Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

A number of us have complained to our manager about this. His response: Ignore it and concentrate on doing our own jobs.

I don't find this to be acceptable -- I don't understand why smokers should be allowed to take breaks when the rest of us are expected to stay in our cubicles. Shouldn't we get breaks too?

- Inflamed

Dear Inflamed ...

What you didn't say is how your manager reacts when you take a break. So here's what I suggest: As soon as you've finished reading this, get up from your desk, exit past the smokers in the doorway, and take a five-minute walk to clear your head (I'm assuming you don't count the time you spend reading Advice Line as a break).

See if your manager says anything. If so, I think it's reasonable to ask his policy. Must you remain near the doorway? Must you have a cylindrical object in your mouth? Must it emit smoke? However, I'd suggest avoiding sarcasm unless you know your manager responds well to it.

My expectation: Your manager, quite reasonably, doesn't care at all about informal breaks, smoking or otherwise. He cares about the work getting done.

What you should care about is whether you use the time you spend not taking breaks productively enough to be a more valuable employee than your smoking colleagues, and whether your manager notices your higher productivity and effectiveness.

- Bob

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