Shorter Working Week Threatens Cigarette Breaks

      July 31, 2018 08:29

      Smokers who sneak out of the office for a cigarette during the shorter working week are increasingly under scrutiny from bosses who think that productivity is to be measured by long ineffectual hours at the desk.

      One office worker with a large retailer who smokes about half a pack a day has already had to cut back as his employer banned cigarette breaks at the busiest times.

      "Most of my coworkers who smoke seem to be voluntarily cutting back," he said. "Many smoke either at lunch or before and after office hours."

      Some big businesses keep electronic tabs on when staff leave and return to the office and cut it out of their working hours. One worker for a large IT company said, "Although smokers don't face clear-cut disadvantages, the electronic trail they leave behind each time they head out for a smoke makes them a bit uneasy."

      Some traditionalists worry that cigarette breaks harm productivity. The Korea Health Promotion Institute contracted Ewha Womans University to assess the amount of time workers spend smoking at the office, which tallied it at an average of 41 minutes a day. 

      Workers smoke outside of an office building in Yeouido, Seoul on July 19.

      The university studied seven companies that employ on average 1,009 workers, and then boldly tried to tally the financial loss, regardless whether the workers had assembly-line jobs where presence at the post might translate into actual productivity or whether they would otherwise just sit at their desk surfing the web.

      It arrived at a tentative figure of W3.18 million lost per employee a year based on a daily wage of W155,000 (US$1=W1,120).

      Ahn Jung-hoon, a professor at Ewha, said, "The lost time does not include the time it takes for smokers to leave and return to the office, so the actual losses in productivity are probably bigger."

      On the other hand, workers who smoke less may be healthier. The study estimated that if workers quit smoking, they will spend around a W530,000 less on medical costs five years later.

      Kim Kwang-kee, a professor at Inje University, said, "We should no longer approach smoking as a personal problem but look at it as a crisis that requires the government to lead prevention."

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