Why Rolls-Royce created a smoke free workplace

April 10, 2019

Public health laws in the UK say that enclosed workplaces and public places must be smoke free. But beyond this, there’s not much written in law that stops your employees from stepping outside, and lighting a cigarette. But should you let them, or should you try to create a totally smoke free workplace?

Dr David Roomes is the Chief Medical Officer at engineering company Rolls-Royce, employing over 55,000 people. Rolls-Royce takes employee wellbeing very seriously. And creating a smoke free workplace is exactly what Dr Roomes did, in an effort to promote better health and wellbeing for his employees.

Health and wellbeing is best when it is simple

“People overcomplicate health and wellbeing” says Dr Roomes, “but actually, the four things you can do to make the biggest difference, are simple.”

Dr Roomes says that the key to better health and wellbeing, are:

  1. Eat better
  2. Drink plenty of water
  3. Move more
  4. Quit smoking

As an ex-smoker, that last point got my brain ticking. How the hell do you stop employees from smoking? Is it a personal freedom you should put up with, or should you be taking matters into your own hands, for the greater good?

Going smoke free across the board

“At Rolls-Royce, we have taken the approach of going globally smoke free” Dr Roomes tells me. “What that means is not just not smoking in buildings, but not smoking on any real-estate that we own or manage.”

Dr Roomes recognises that people have the right to smoke, but says that does not mean they should have the right to smoke on company premises.

“What we previously had was smoking shelters” he says. “But while we recognise that they are not doing anything ‘wrong’ by smoking – it is perfectly legal – we decided that they should be doing it on their own time, and away from our premises.”

Why pay to promote self harm?

But if the company had previously provided smoking shelters, I wondered why the change of heart? Dr Roomes told me that he doesn’t believe it is right for a company to collude with self harm.

“It’s harmful” he says, fully aware that this is not news to anybody. “Yet companies spend thousands putting up a smoking shelter – you’re investing thousands of pounds to enable smoking! You’re actually paying to help people self-harm.”

Thinking I was being clever, I asked Dr Roomes if it is not the same as providing free chocolate. He laughed – he’d heard this one before.

“Well, there is a safe amount of chocolate you can eat” he says. “There is no health benefit to cigarette smoking.”

Don’t just pull the rug out from under their feet

While I fully support measures that improve health and wellbeing in the workplace, I couldn’t help but feel as if a sudden smoke free workplace might be too much of a shock to the system. After all, if we took this back a couple of years, and somebody suddenly told me that I wasn’t allowed to smoke on company premises anymore, it’s safe to say I would be pretty pissed off.

“We did not pull the rug out from under anybody’s feet” Dr Roomes reassures me. “We put a two-year lead time into introducing the policy, and we put into place smoking cessation support programmes for those people who wanted to quit.”

Dr Roomes says that as well as being a personal freedom, smoking is an addiction – you can’t just deal with the problem by pretending it’s not there. So if you plan to introduce a smoke free workplace yourself, then make sure you give employees plenty of notice, and put the support programme into place to help them quit if they want to.

Encourage employees to quit smoking for a healthier happier workplace

You can’t – and shouldn’t – try to force employees to quit smoking. But if you can successfully encourage them to make this big life change, you and they will reap the rewards.

“There are so many benefits to stopping smoking” says Dr Roomes “and they’re not just physical. Stopping smoking improves bloodflow to the brain, which supports better mental health.”

For more information, British Heart Foundation has a useful  free booklet explaining the benefits of creating a smoke free workplace.

And if you liked this article, you might also enjoy my interview with Baroness Susan Greenfield, which explains why the brain of a gambling addict is the same as the brain of a tech addict.

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