Nicotine as a workplace lubricant

I regularly bring it up at seminars and in Q&As, but now the FT’s on the case:

Little research has been done on smoking in the workplace. Much of what there is focuses on how smoking bans encourage people to quit, or how non-smokers resent smokers leaving their desks for a puff (surely less of a legitimate gripe when so many people waste time surfing the internet without leaving their desks).

But I have not been able to track down any research on one of the most striking aspects of workplace smoking groups: their heterogeneous make-up. Companies spend money on activities such as Outward Bound adventures and cookery classes, hoping to encourage bonding between different departments. Smokers already cross those boundaries. Look at any group congregating for a cigarette: you will see senior executives and security guards, marketing and IT support.

Does smoking produce business benefits? “There’s no doubt in my mind that it inspires cross-departmental collaboration,” one FT commercial manager (and smoker) told me. “You get to know people who you otherwise wouldn’t, and get a feel for what they do. If you’ve half a spark of creativity about you you’ll doubtless stumble across an idea you hadn’t thought of before. It also allows for the ‘off the record’ conversations between departments that grease the wheels of business. I’d be pretty lost without them.”

The best time to smoke at work was probably from late 80s, when it became unacceptable to smoke at your desk, to the early 2000s, when you had to smoke outside the building rather than in the smoking room. Like so many well-intentioned “effectiveness measures” like coffee machines instead of tea trolleys, organisations have succeeded in breaking many of the social rituals and meeting places and instead are wondering why the coherence in the organisation is less strong than it once was – and they’re having to encourage people to try online social media to collaborate instead. And employee engagement programmes to try and reinstate some sense of cohesion.


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