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E-cigarettes and Productivity in the Workplace

What every employer and employee should know about the cost benefits of allowing e-smoking at work

It wasn't long ago that cigarettes were as much apart of the office as paper and pens. This was a time when corporate America was engulfed in smoke and tar –not from the labors of industry, but from employees puffing away at their desks. But times have indeed changed. Nowadays, it seems the only smoking you're likely to see in the workplace is when Don Draper lights up on an episode of Mad Men.

However, now a new debate is arising on how to handle an alternative to traditional cigarettes in the office: e-cigarettes. Since e-smoking emits harmless water vapor, rather than dangerous smoke and tar, proponents of using e-cigarettes in the workplace urge companies to allow these devices as a way to improve productivity.

Those against it say it's similarity to regular smoking can be a potential problem.

When creating a smoking policy, a smart business manager considers both the health and safety of their employees, as well as the effect it has on productivity, which is why banning cigarettes is such an obvious choice. But e-smoking is a whole different story.

Although a quick 10 to 15 minute smoke break may not seem like a big deal when looked at individually, the lost productivity adds up substantially over the course of a year, driving up a business's basic level costs.

For instance, according to The New York Times blog, a private employer pays an extra $5,816 per year for each employee who smokes compared to a nonsmoking worker. The lion's share of this excess annual cost ($3,077) comes from taking smoke breaks. Smokers took an average of 5 breaks per day - whereas nonsmokers only took 3, as sanctioned for most workers.

The second largest reason for the excess expense of hiring smokers ($2,056) is related to health care, and the remaining costs are associated with absenteeism amongst employees who smoked. Researchers found that smokers miss approximately two and a half more workdays each year than their nonsmoking coworkers.

So while the reasons behind why an employer should ban smoking in the workplace are pretty straightforward, what about e-cigarettes? How should businesses professionally handle e-smoking?

Some businesses have been proactive in handling the growing number of employees who are switching to e-cigarettes by addressing e-smoking in their company policies. For example, Safety Harbour Insurance Inc. officially allows its employees to e-smoke whenever and wherever they want while at work.

"We love it", said manager Candace Nichols, who is an e-smoker herself. "It cuts back on the extra break time, so we are able to be more productive within the business".

Other companies have gone the other way, choosing to include e-cigarettes in their organization's smoking ban. For instance, many train, rail, and airline companies prohibit e-smoking to avoid passenger confusion.

However, a majority of organizations still remain on the fence about how to treat e-cigarettes, and if they have a positive or negative effect on productivity in the workplace.

According to David Anderson, CEO of David Anderson Wealth, the answer is clear. In an Examiner article, Anderson calculates that if 10 workers take five, 10-minute smoke breaks per day –and factoring in the national average hourly wage of $23.63 at the time– the productivity loss would total $50,000 annually.

And not only that, but "you can kiss goodbye to a further 15 minutes (at least) to get back to the task", says Anderson . Overall, Anderson estimates that allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace could recover $100,000 annually in productivity per every 10 employees who smoke.

And he isn't alone in his calculations. More and more businesses are taking a closer look at e-cigarettes and discovering that allowing them in the workplace can be beneficial to productivity. Ultimately though, the role of e-smoking in your office depends on your specific company.

Creating an E-Smoking Policy in the Workplace

While allowing employees to e-smoke in the workplace can improve productivity, there are some factors that employers should consider before implementing a company-wide policy.

For one, e-cigarettes look very similar to regular cigarettes, especially from a distance, which can make it more difficult to monitor regular cigarette use. A simple solution to this predicament is educating all employees –smokers and non-smokers alike– on what an e-cigarette is and how it differs from smoking. Awareness helps employees ensure that company policies are being followed.

Employers should also consider if e-smoking devices are likely to upset or disturb other workers. For instance, employees trying to give up regular cigarettes may prefer not to be exposed to e-cigarettes out of personal choice. Preparation is needed to respect their wishes and give employees who e-smoke the choice to use their e-cigarette and work simultaneously.

Another factor an employer should put some thought into before permitting e-smoking in the workplace is their proper disposal. E-cigarette batteries, particularly, should be discarded like other electronic waste, so employers should provide a means for e-smokers to properly throw out their device when necessary.

Lastly, check to see if your state or local government has any specific laws on smoking in the workplace. So far, 29 states plus the District of Columbia , as well as some local governments, have bans or restrictions on smoking in general in the workplace. And while e-cigarettes are not prohibited by any workplace smoking law, the strictness or leniency of your region's view on smoking in the workplace may inform you on how you might treat the issue of e-smoking.

Planning a strategy for confronting these obstacles is key to implementing a company policy on e-cigarettes that works. What's clear is that staying on the fence about this subject is becoming increasingly difficult.

While we all remain hopeful that smoking in the office is a bad habit remembered only in old photos and Hollywood dramas, the question of e-cigarettes in the workplace and what part e-smoking can play in employee productivity is currently being considered by companies around the country and abroad.

Our advice to business managers: learn about e-smoking, and include e-cigarettes specifically in your smoking policy. For employees who use e-cigarettes: help your manager make an educated decision by presenting to them how e-smoking can improve productivity.

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