night shift guy smoking

Why are employees still smoking?

To answer the question “why are employees still smoking” it’s not because they don’t know smoking is terrible for their health. It’s most often because they can’t relate to how not to smoke.

Shift working industries have a higher rate of smokers. However, I laugh when health professionals talk about the need to quit smoking, then follow it up with yoga and meditation to help manage stress during smoking cessation sessions.

As health and wellness professionals we need to get our heads out of the kale bowl and just try to understand them for a moment?

The diesel mechanic, trucker, police officer, or even our front-line workers will most likely not kick smoking and suddenly pick up yoga.

Smoking breaks are more than just smoking.

Often they are excuses to step away for a moment, it’s a habit that allows them a moment to think. When was the last time you got frustrated or just got up and walked away to clear your head? If you are a non-smoker, probably not very often it at all.

Think about what happens when someone goes out for a cigarette.

  1. They step away from their jobs (good or bad) and get clear their head.
  2. They are inhaling even though the smoke is toxic; they are INHALING; ask a non-smoker when was the last time they stepped away from their desk every 1-2 hours and took 5 to 10 deep breaths.
  3. There is a social aspect to smoking and chatting with other people.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for the toxic smoke part, these are all healthy habits if the employee is not abusing taking too many breaks.

Depending on state law, most employees are permitted a break in an 8-hour shift. In my experience, non-smokers don’t often take any breaks besides lunch, while smokers, on average, take three 15 min breaks. As a well-being strategist, I would want all my employees to take a break because it helps them stay engaged and reduce stress and burnout.

We are not just asking employees to quit smoking.

We are asking them to give up:

  • Breaks
  • How they manage stress (yes, I know smoking isn’t good, but its what they have been using)
  • The social aspect of the smoking break
  • Method of staying awake. Many shift workers use smoking to keep them awake since they know coffee will disrupt their sleep.

What’s being promoted

Now let’s look at the alternatives most often spoken about to mitigate stress and missing breaks:

  • Yoga and meditation for stress
  • Get a glass of water
  • Go for a walk with a co-worker.
  • See a therapist
  • Nicotine patch

Many of these options either;

  • Don’t relate; I don’t know many diesel mechanics hitting the local yoga class or asking the welder to go for a walk.
  • Are outside their budget.
  • They don’t fit their shift times.

When the argument of the cost comes up, it’s generally met with, “the cost is cheaper in the long run.” However, many don’t have “long-run money” when living paycheck to paycheck. They have $12 now, not $50.

How are we going to expect someone to make a major behavioral change when what we are offering doesn’t relate to them at all?

Missing Link

As health professionals and employers, we need to better understand who they are and what we asking them to change. If they love fishing, talk about how fishing can be part of a stress management technique or how a few deep breaths like the Physicological Sigh can help reduce stress at the moment.

We can talk about the importance of hydrating and movement, which is much better than saying grab a glass of water and go for a walk. Even how we can use humor to help keep that social aspect.

We have to make sure we are relating to our clients and our employees in the behavior we are asking them to change

If you want to learn more about how to help improve your employee’s wellness, click here.

If you are a health coach and want to learn more techniques to better relate with shift-working clients, click here.

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