According to several surveys, smokers spend a significant amount of time on ‘smoke breaks’. I saw one recently that claims smokers spend an additional hour a day with their fags rather than on their work. In fact, it has been recently reported that some councils have decided to make smokers clock in and out for smoke breaks, though, as far as I know, have not decided to make people clock in and out for making beverages, chatting by the water cooler or any of the other potentially unproductive ways in which employees may spend their time.

The issue of whether smokers should have to ‘pay back’ smoking time is hotly debated and tends, sadly, to have two distinct sides – those who smoke, and those who don’t!

But maybe the smoke break is a red herring. Yes, it can be seen as unfair if someone spends less time working than you do. If your employer’s culture values working hours rather than working results, it can be particularly galling if you feel you are putting in more effort than your colleagues and for no particular thanks. But I suspect that feeling would be there whether the colleague was having a smoke break or chatting with a friend on the phone, or anything else that makes you feel you are working harder than them.

We keep hearing a lot about flexible working from the Government. And we keep hearing a lot about the importance of results from employers. We need to think about what it is we want from our employees – a job well done, or a certain amount of time in the office? Of course, most jobs require a certain amount of time to do them and more time can equal a better or more productive job done. But I would suggest that the way to get the best from your employees isn’t to make them account for every minute of their day, but to reward them for making every minute of their day count. A proper appraisal and incentive system will go a long way to motivating employees and encouraging them to avoid the twin evils of clockwatching and presenteeism.

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