Archive | June, 2008

A Dying Camaraderie

4 Jun

The workplace is probably not better for it.  Employee satisfaction has suffered because of it.  More stress has entered the workplace because of it.  The Employee Relations folks have failed to find an acceptable substitute for it.  No one ever talks about it – it just happens.  What is this I speak of, you ask?  Simply, the continued ostracization of the smokers – I mean really – where have the smokers gone and are we really better for it?  I say No. 

Let’s dispense with your quick assumptions – I am NOT a smoker and never have been with the exception of a periodic smoke when I drank.  I will say that if I had a smoke when I drink now – I would be a smoker by default for my wife forces me to consume large amounts of wine – we have an unlimited budget in this area.  Tangent.

I can recall the good old days of the early 90s when there was a smoking section in my company cafeteria.  You know when the effective barrier was a freaking aisle with slightly more width and some ceiling fans running at a more rapid pace to improve air quality.  While maintenance looked at fan speed as a better air circulator for the greater good, the smoker viewed this as training for the approaching winter months when they would be huddled together outside in a "designated smoking area"  – cold, shivering yet puffing away at pleasure in a stick. 

They knew what was coming – no longer being able to smoke inside but at a new outside designated smoking area.  Let’s take a closer look at these areas if we can.  Many companies decided to go with an area out back, down a ways maybe, perhaps the shipping and receiving deck now dubbed smoking and receiving by the smokers.  The "down a ways" approach was the veiled way of the company suggesting – maybe you need to quit smoking and mix in an exercise regimen.  They were not deterred – it was their smoke.

Back to the designated smoking areas – I am struck by the fact that the area always takes on a single syllable design – the smoke shack, the smoke room, the smoke deck, the smoke hut – no one ever names it the cancer canopy, cougher corner, COPD alley – no one ever tries to get money from tobacco companies to sponsor it.  Why not get some funding here?

Enter the wellness program.  Better insurance rates, gym memberships at a discount, free calorie counters – while the Employee Benefits professional champions this because he is a professional trainer on the side, has a meal replacement shake for lunch EVERYDAY and knows his body fat percentage like others know their address – the smoker screams, in a raspy voice, Why? They don’t want to count their steps, they don’t want to workout on a regular basis – they just want to know how many steps to the smoke shack for that is where their wellness resides.  Simply examined, they are deferring the heavy breathing from the cardio equipment we use now to the end of their life.

I think we have really lost something in this ostracization of the smoker though.  Smoking is diversity.  Smoking brings people together that would not normally be together.  It transcends gender, race, exempt and non-exempt, mail room and boardroom, marketing and operations.  I think we have segregated the smoker because as non-smokers we are completely envious of the bond this fraternity holds and we have nothing that compares to it.  Absolutely nothing.  We have tried with our golf leagues, fantasy sports leagues, departmental luncheons, corporate challenge events, whatever but in our heart of hearts they all fall short and we know it.  These things are limited and seasonal.

I think all of us have caught ourselves, from time to time, sneaking a peek at the smokers area and all the allure it holds – wishing we smoked.  We see the kind of strange mail room/copy room guy named Lawrence with like the Dudley Doright voice – never call him Larry – having a conversation with an Executive VP – the head legal counsel chatting with the ap clerk who has the fascination with Mickey Mouse and we want some of that.  Smoking is the great equalizer.

We bring a cake on a co-workers birthday and call it thoughtful, they bring cartons for the same and call it personal sacrifice.  We have surface conversations with co-workers – "How you doing, Bill?" and could care less what the answer is – they know each others kids by name and the namebrand they’re packing.  It really is as if we are just pissed that we can’t practice our respective vice at work.  They can smoke, why can’t I have a gambling area out back too?

We need to control this jealousy and embrace the smoker code.  At its foundation, the smoker code offers bridge building diversity and strong personal relationships at work.  They see each other in a relaxed atmosphere and can be themselves – stress free, secure, transparent with a smoky film.  No wonder the smoker loves their job – we can’t continue to take this away.  Maybe we all need an occasional puff or at a minimum just to go sit out there and hold a lit cigarette and inhale the positve vibe.  Just throw some Febreeze in your damn gymbag.  Improved morale has a cost.

Look, it is not the smoker that has trouble with the non-smoker it is the non-smoker who really has the dilemna.  Let’s give them their designated smoking area, continue searching in vain for its equal and press on doing the work that the company hired us to perform.  Even better, seek to understand what can we learn from these people – let’s take the best of what they practice with a smoke in their hand and apply to our non-smoker ways. 

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