The financial toll of employee tobacco use in the workplace cannot be overstated. According to a 2023 write-up by Pivot CEO David S. Utley, U.S. businesses suffer losses amounting to nearly $185 billion annually due to smoking-related illnesses among employees. When factoring in everything else, from absenteeism to higher healthcare costs, a tobacco-using employee is estimated to cost companies over $8,000 more than a non-smoking employee per year. This figure will continue increasing for as long as inflation rises and most employees use tobacco products. These staggering figures underscore the urgent need for comprehensive smoking cessation programs within the workplace. Below, we delve into the benefits of smoking cessation programs and strategies for their efficient implementation.
Benefits of smoking cessation programs
Smoking cessation programs within the workplace benefit not just the individual employee but also their colleagues and company. After all, these programs are pivotal in addressing the broader mental, physical, and societal implications of smoking.
Addressing absenteeism and presenteeism
The foremost advantage of smoking cessation programs lies in their potential to lessen workplace absenteeism and presenteeism. Utley noted that individuals who smoke exhibit a 31% higher rate of filing sick leaves compared to their non-smoking counterparts. Additionally, this 2021 research article confirmed that a smoker’s productivity loss is approximately 1.7-fold higher than that of a non-smoker. A Harvard Business Review report notes that this presenteeism can cost over $150 billion annually. On the flip side, companies that encourage employees to receive treatments for reducing smoking may benefit from greater productivity and health, thereby de-escalating business costs. In fact, the CDC previously said that wellness programs can save companies nearly $4 in healthcare and productivity costs for every $1 they invest.
Reducing workplace tensions
Workplace tensions often arise from disparities in privileges, and the case of regular smoke breaks for smokers introduces such imbalances. A 2023 study by nicotine pouch company Haypp UK confirmed that 52% of smokers and vapers take frequent smoke breaks during work hours with some extending up to 20 minutes per break. Back-to-back, this accumulates to roughly 39 hours of smoking breaks in a year. Notably, employees are not automatically entitled to take a smoke break via company benefits, leading to tension among coworkers who perceive it as unfair for smokers to enjoy these breaks. Encouraging cessation would help employees require fewer smoke breaks and contribute to a fair and harmonious workplace environment.
Encouraging a workplace culture of health
Smoking cessation programs serve as the foundational step toward influencing a culture of health within the workplace. According to this paper in IJERPH, these programs help shape culture through interpersonal, community, and policy-level factors. Regardless of employees’ health status or participation in other workplace health initiatives, smoking cessation programs encourage a proactive approach, fostering increased awareness and consciousness about individual health. This contributes to establishing a framework for a more comprehensive and enduring culture of health within the organization. As shared in a survey using the Overall Health and Productivity Effectiveness (OHPE) metric, healthy employees brought in 50% more revenue.
Enhancing employee morale and loyalty
Lastly, the same study in IJERPH highlights that a workplace culture prioritizing health is associated with higher job satisfaction, retention, and work engagement. Employees who feel that their well-being is genuinely cared for are more likely to exhibit greater loyalty and dedication to the company. A comprehensive smoking cessation program is a great start to show employees that the company has put care and thought into their wellness.
Strategies for implementing smoking cessation programs
Recognizing the need to go beyond tokenistic smoking cessation programs, implementing a program demands a holistic approach. For starters, smoking cessation programs should encompass a robust strategy to address the physiological aspect of tobacco use.
Notably, not all smoking alternatives are equal, so companies must provide comprehensive information on suitable choices that help smokers wean off nicotine. This should have a variety of strengths and flavors, with easy go-to options for beginners. Flavored nicotine pouches are one of the best-selling products for smoking cessation in the United States, containing 6mg of nicotine that’s suitable for the average to heavy smoker. Its notes of menthol are appropriate for young and older adults, making it an excellent option for companies to include in a trade-in program, wherein employees can voluntarily surrender their cigarettes and e-cigarettes in exchange for a smoking alternative. Such efforts help reduce employee financial concerns and make accessing alternatives easier.
Moreover, recognizing the dependence-related challenges associated with smoking cessation is pivotal. Smoking is often intertwined with coping techniques, making counseling a valuable component of a holistic program. To illustrate, a post on cessation shows that an intervention that incorporated smoking alternatives, like the QuitGo nicotine-free soft tips, along with varenicline and psychological support, was more beneficial. This resulted in a significantly higher likelihood of successful cessation at week 24 among smokers and, more importantly, those grappling with work-related stress symptoms.
Acknowledging the interconnected nature of psychological well-being and smoking habits means that companies have to address the root causes of smoking among employees, too. As emphasized by author Jeffrey Pfeffer, individual behaviors like smoking are related to the workplace-induced stress that individuals go through. Therefore, workplace well-being initiatives should concentrate on preventing the stress-inducing aspects of work environments in the first place. This can mean considering reasonable working hours, a positive workplace environment, and an extensive benefits package, including health insurance. By understanding work-related stress symptoms, companies can create an environment that supports smoking cessation and takes accountability for the overall well-being of their workforce.
As we navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, investing in smoking cessation emerges not only as a financial necessity. It becomes a testament to an organization’s commitment to the well-being of its most valuable asset — its workforce.