A reader writes:
How do I determine where the line is between enforcing policy and being a jerk?
Example: my workplace (a restaurant) has no policy for smoke breaks. But it DOES have a policy where you get a 10 minute break for every 4 hours you work, and a half hour for every 6 hours you work (it amounts to a break every 2 hours, more or less). I feel that every two hours is a fine amount for smoke breaks. However, many managers (including myself, up until now) have allowed smokers to go outside on short, informal breaks (5 mins or less, on the clock) to smoke if its particularly slow, if they ask to.
I take issue with this, because I don’t think it’s fair. The people who take smoke breaks are also mostly on the night crew, and there are smokers during the day who don’t get extra breaks because they don’t ask for them. Plus, non-smokers don’t get to just stand outside and get fresh air for a couple minutes either. And even if its slow, labor cutbacks have made it so there is ALWAYS more work that needs to be done.
I’ve discussed this issue with my manager, and she says she’ll back me (in the form of not allowing smoke breaks on HER shift) if I decide not to allow smoking breaks any more, but she didn’t seem to give any indication of making a change in policy.
Mainly it’s just tough because 1) we’ve allowed them up until now, and 2) I know I’ll feel like a jerk if I say no, because people only ask when we’re slow or just got out of a big rush. Is this something I should bother with?
In an office environment or other environment where breaks aren’t scheduled, I’d say just set a high bar for performance and expect people to meet it; establish a fast-paced, high-productivity culture; and keep your focus on whether or not people are getting impressive results … and then you can ignore what types of breaks they do or don’t take, because you’re focused on how they’re actually performing.
But in environments where it actually makes sense to schedule breaks, like restaurants, I’m not sure that approach applies.
I do think that if you’re going to have a policy that dictates breaks, then you have to apply that policy fairly and evenly. (However, you also want to make sure that it makes sense to have that policy in the first place. I’m going to assume for the sake of this question that dictating breaks makes sense, serves the best interests of the company, etc. — which includes things beyond short-term interests, like making sure you can attract and retain good people.) In any case, if you have the policy, you either enforce it across the board or you revisit a policy and find one that better reflects your goals as a manager. In this case, that means that you either don’t make exceptions for smokers or you rework the policy in a way that permits smoke breaks without giving the smokers something special that the non-smokers don’t get. (For instance, maybe anyone can step away for a few minutes when it’s slow, whether it’s to smoke, get fresh air, make a phone call, or anything else.)
But I agree with you that it’s unfair to simply have a smoker exception.
What do others think?