Research for British Heart Foundation says cigarette breaks cost employers £1,815 a year for each full-time worker who smokes
Cigarette breaks at work cost British businesses £8.4bn a year in lost productivity of smokers who disappear for a cigarette for 10 minutes four times a day, new research reveals.
Smoking breaks cost employers £1,815 a year for each full-time member of staff who lights up during working hours, according to a study for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
The one-in-five of the workforce who smoke take an average of 3.9 smoking breaks, each lasting 9.8 minutes. They spend about 4.3 minutes of each working hour on a smoking break, the study shows.
A separate survey of 2,000 employed smokers, by OnePoll for the BHF, showed that cigarette breaks take up 8.1% of a full-time member of staff's time spent working, and 5.4% of that of a part-time worker, whose cigarette breaks cost their employers £447 a year.
"Over a working week, smoking breaks cost businesses £25.91 per smoker in lost time that would otherwise be used productively," CEBR's report says.
"While it may be argued that time spent on smoking breaks enhances productivity, providing an opportunity for refreshment and reflection, there is probably a decrease in productivity in the time before the smoking break which, on average, cancels out the effect, leaving the smoking break itself as lost productive time," it adds.
Smokers also take 70% of an extra day's sick leave every year more than non-smokers, according to CEBR's analysis of the Office for National Statistics' annual population survey of the smoking habits and working patterns of more than 300,000 Britons.
CEBR calculates that this time off costs businesses about £50 per smoker per year, or another £288m overall, bringing the total cost to business to almost £8.7bn a year. The £8.4bn cost of cigarette breaks is equivalent to 0.5% of the country's entire GDP.
"This research shows that not only is smoking extremely damaging to people's heart health, it's also damaging to the health of businesses at a time when every penny counts. Both should be a huge concern for business owners and managers," said Lisa Purcell, manager of the BHF's health at work programme.
She added: "With the average smoker taking at least four smoking breaks a day, their addiction is seriously increasing their risk of conditions like heart disease and stroke. It's also costing their employer significant sums in lost productivity.
"For many workers, smoking has become part of their daily routine at work, which makes it extremely difficult to break."
Employers should do as much as possible to help personnel who smoke kick their "deadly addiction", she said. About one million people a year try to quit smoking on No Smoking Day on 12 March. Research shows smokers make an average of four attempts to quit before doing so.
Among the 2,000 workers who smoked, 88% said they went for a cigarette break when feeling stressed, 72% did so to put off an unwanted task, and 76% said their cravings were increased by other people in their office smoking.
BHF's findings also show that smokers, whether they work full or part-time, earn an average £9.90 per hour, much less than a non-smoker, which suggests that smoking is much more common in manual jobs than professional and managerial posts.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) declined to comment on the £8.4bn productivity loss. A spokesman said that firms did not monitor or crack down on cigarette breaks. "Smoking is bad for your health but it is an individual choice. Many companies offer employees who want to quit support to do so.
"Employers take a common sense approach on smoking breaks, in the same way that they would for other brief breaks from work, like making a cup of tea."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © andronicusmax