As it turns out, not smoking has its perks and privileges.
This problem began high up in the Ebisu Garden Place Tower in Tokyo. Non-smoking employees at Piala, an advertising and automated marketing service for direct marketers and other companies, took notice of the time their smoking colleagues took away from work on smoke breaks.
Their smoking colleagues, which equated to about one third of the company’s entire workforce, took 15-minute smoke breaks intermittently throughout the day. According to The New York Times, this resulted in low productivity rates and some workers were upset that other colleagues were not working the same number of hours as they were. How could they not be at least a little angry? Working less and probably getting paid the same is no way near fair.
So, employees complained to the company’s chief about the problem. Piala spokesman Hirotaka Matsushima told The Telegraph, “One of our non-smoking staff put a message in the company suggestion box earlier in the year saying that smoking breaks were causing problems.”
This past September, the chief executive Takao Asuka did something about that complaint, but it is likely not what your typically CEO would have done.
Instead of firing all the smokers or giving them a warning not to smoke, he announced that the company would reward non-smoking employees with an additional six days of vacation every year. It is an attempt at compensating those who don’t take smoke breaks which consume at least a good 15 minutes of every work day.
Asuka told The Japan Times, “I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion.”
His response is certainly unique in a country where tobacco use remains a popular habit. According to the World Health Organization, close to 20 percent of Japanese adults smoke tobacco on a daily basis. Smoking rooms are commonly seen in public places of businesses and offices. WHO official Susan Mercado told The Japan Times that in Japan alone, approximately 130,000 people die from smoking-related diseases every year. An additional 15,000 die from secondhand smoke conditions.
These numbers pale in comparison to American smokers. Currently, approximately 15 percent of American adults smoke. This number is down slightly over the past decade or so. The decrease in smoking is partly due to health initiatives and new health laws that ban smoking and that show the danger of smoking.
So far, Asuka’s approach has worked. Since he announced the compensation move in September, 4 of the company’s 42 smoking employees have given up the habit. The reward of extra days off from work seems reason enough to dumb the cigarettes in favor of personal wellbeing.