Business

Workers wonder about boss’s smoke breaks

Marie McIntyre, workplace coach
Marie McIntyre, workplace coach

Q: My supervisor recently got very angry when a few employees lined up at the time clock shortly before quitting time. She said we must keep working every minute until the end of our shift. However, her concern for productivity seems hypocritical, as she regularly wastes time taking smoke breaks.

Twice a day, our supervisor and department manager go outside and spend 15 minutes smoking and chatting. One of our co-workers occasionally joins them, and they never complain about his missing work. How can we protest this unfair company policy?

A: Smoke breaks have been a point of contention for years. Because non-smoking employees understandably resent others having free time to indulge a bad habit, many companies have eliminated this special privilege. In terms of policy change, therefore, the trend is in your favor.

At the moment, your group actually appears more upset about management than about smoking. But since complaining about your bosses could be unproductive and risky, focusing on the break policy is a smarter move. To increase your leverage, get some irritated non-smokers from other departments to join the cause.

Next, your group must decide where to take this complaint. Since personnel policies typically originate in human resources, the HR manager would seem to be the logical choice. Instead of bringing up time clock issues or supervisory unfairness, explain how smoke breaks reduce productivity and are resented by non-smokers.

Since your supervisor and her boss may not appreciate this attempt to revoke their smoking privileges, ask the HR manager to keep identities confidential. And don’t expect immediate results. Policy changes seldom happen overnight, but at least you will have started the conversation.

Q: Several months ago, I accepted a job that requires weekly travel. I was expected to cover the central United States from our headquarters in Texas, which worked out well. Recently, however, my territory was expanded to include half the country, so I now have three-hour flights to the East Coast.

To reduce my travel time, I asked the company to pay for my relocation to North Carolina, where my family is from. My manager says human resources denied this request. I suspect that he told them I wanted to move for family reasons. Should I clarify this with HR, or just leave it alone?

A: The glaring omission in your story is any description of how this move would benefit your company. On the face of it, covering “half the country” from North Carolina would seem to be no more convenient than doing so from Texas, so any savings of money or time are not immediately apparent. If HR reached the same conclusion, then your motivation may have indeed appeared to be personal.

If you wish to find out why your request was denied, by all means ask the HR manager. But before initiating that conversation, prepare a business case showing how the move to North Carolina will either reduce travel costs or increase your productivity. If this proves to be difficult, however, then you should definitely drop the subject.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.

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