my boss won’t stop hassling me about my smoking and my weight

A reader writes:

I am middle management. My boss has always complimented me both on the way I work and present myself, but as of late she changed her tune. Now she says she really hates that “horrible habit” of mine, which is smoking. Smoking doesn’t impact my productivity, I take little breaks, and the whole reason this became a problem for her was because I offhandly mentioned I smoke two to three packets a day.

She says she’s concerned about my health, especially since I’ve grown overweight in the last months. My performance has always been up and above expectations, but she’s grown more and more critical about my health and “bad habits.” Every time she makes a comment about my smoking (and sometimes my weight) I try to change topic, but she insists and won’t let the matter go.

Last Friday she even brought me two brochures — one for quitting smoking, the other about a gym she goes to. I felt that this was way overstepping her boundaries.

Another employee relayed to me that my boss boasted to her about how she’ll “fix” me and make sure I become “appealing in appearance” and not just in “substance.”

How can I address this with her without risking her becoming bitter or set me up for consequences? I really don’t wish to get a bad relationship with her, since she’s been my mentor and even put her name and reputation on the line for me during downsizing. I also understand she does all this for my own benefit, and I understand she’s right on those things, but I still feel it’s inappropriate for her to try and force lifestyle changes on me that have nothing to do with work.

Yes, she’s overstepping. Wildly so. What makes her think that your health or your appearance (beyond basic professionalism) is hers to “fix” or in any way her business?

Some managers seem to think that having a job that gives them standing to give you feedback on work also gives them standing to give you feedback on everything about you as a person, but it does not. It doesn’t matter if she thinks her interference is “for your benefit.”

Things that your manager’s job gives her standing to intervene on: the quality of your work, the way you talk with clients, your attention to deadlines, how well you manage your workload, your interactions with other colleagues, whether you adhere to the dress code. Things that your manager’s job does not give her standing to intervene on: your health, your weight, your family, your personal relationships, and other parts of your private life. That’s true even if her advice is really good and you would benefit from following it! It’s true even if she’s itching to say it. She has no more standing to direct you on how to manage your health and your personal life than, say, your Uber driver has. Less, maybe, given the power dynamics in the relationship.

Can you try saying this to her: “I appreciate your concern but I’m really private about my health, and my smoking and weight and my health in general aren’t things I want to talk about at work.” And then if she pushes: “I get that you’re concerned, but I’m not up for discussing private health issues at work, and I’m asking you to respect my privacy.”

If she continues after that, try a more serious conversation along the lines of, “You’ve been an incredible mentor and manager to me and I really value our relationship. I’m so grateful to you for X and Y. I do need to tell you again, though, that my health — including smoking and weight — is not up for discussion at work.” (This is, frankly, kinder than she deserves, but I’m suggesting this wording because you’re concerned about preserving the relationship.)

If that doesn’t solve it, this is something you could take to HR. They won’t want a manager harassing an employee about health issues, even smoking. Also, some states (including California and New York) have laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee for engaging in a lawful activity like smoking; if you’re in one of them, it might be worth pointing that out.

Now, all that said, it is worth making sure that your smoking isn’t affecting your colleagues in ways you don’t realize — like if you and your things smell strongly of cigarettes, or if you’re on smoke breaks when people need you. I’m guessing that’s probably not what’s driving this since your manager’s comments didn’t start until she discovered how much you smoke per day … but it’s also possible those things were already concerns and she just didn’t address it until the two to three packs a day revelation brought it more into focus for her (for example, by making her realize that it wasn’t just in her head that you’re always outside when she needs you, or something like that). That wouldn’t excuse the way she’s handling it though; in that case, she should limit her comments to the work-specific parts (like by telling you that you need to take fewer breaks). What she’s doing instead is out of line and abusing her power.

{ 383 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Please stick to advice to the letter writer, not your feelings about smoking or smokers.

    Please keep in mind in your responses that smoking is a powerful addiction. The OP is surely aware they should quit and is not seeking advice (or shaming) on that.

  2. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

    I don’t really have anything helpful to add here, but the mention that you smoke two to three packs A DAY made me wonder how on earth you have time for… literally anything else, and I’m wondering if your boss is reacting the same way.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Not a smoker, but I grew up around many. Sounds expensive these days, but the OP might be smoking mostly at mealtime or in the evening. Also, some people smoke really fast.

      1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

        Yeah, I think I’m used to the smoking habits of my European colleagues, who tend to be more leisurely about it. (Their productivity isn’t impacted by smoking 2-3 cigarettes a day, but if they were smoking 2-3 PACKS a day it absolutely would be.) If the OP’s speedrunning their cigarettes, that would make more sense.

      2. STG*

        I’m an ex-smoker but I learned how to huff down a cigarette in a minute and a half easy due to waiting tables and breaks being so unpredictable. It doesn’t take long at all.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Just as a point of reference, three packs a day would be 90 minutes.

          But the only thing that’s the manager’s business is the quality of work.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            As a note, while at work smoking time is pretty much always not-working/ break time due to current law, at other places this time doesn’t necessarily cut into the time spent doing other things.

          2. Lily Rowan*

            When I smoked, I smoked more in the evening after work than I did during the work day.

      3. SloanGhost*

        I had a manager who could smoke an entire cigarette in the 45 seconds it took us to take out the trash after he unlocked the back door. It was like 2 drags. I’ve always been sort of impressed by it.

    2. EL*

      Their boss presumably knows exactly how much they get done because she’s their boss. She hasn’t framed this as a critique of their productivity, so I’m not sure why on earth you are.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          No she didn’t. I see Allison said optics matter but boss only knows about the 2-3 packs per day because he told her as much. Not because he’s always on smoke breaks when needed.

          1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

            “…but it’s also possible those things were already concerns and she just didn’t address it until the two to three packs a day revelation brought it more into focus for her (for example, by making her realize that it wasn’t just in her head that you’re always outside when she needs you, or something like that).”

            Last paragraph. I agree with Alison that the boss is wildly overstepping and needs to stop immediately, but I also agree that it’s worth double-checking to make sure OP’s really not impacting their coworkers in ways they haven’t realized.

            1. Lego Leia*

              This is what I was wondering, too. I don’t know if, the next time the boss brings it up, to actually ask “Is this a work related discussion? If my weight and smoking habits aren’t impacting my job performance, then I need you to stop discussing them”.

              I also did wonder if the boss suddenly noticed that OP was away from their desk a lot, and put two and two together. Sometimes is takes an off hand comment for dots to connect.

          2. Seriously?*

            or if you’re on smoke breaks when people need you.

            Yes, she did. She asked OP to reflect if it’s a problem, although it’s unlikely as boss didn’t bring it up until she knew how much OP smoked.

      1. CaliUKexpat*

        This is what I was thinking. My late MIL only smoked on breaks at the office, but morning and night? It was one after the other. Two packs a day for quite a while, just by keeping it all at home. Certainly possible.

    3. ADidgeridooForYou*

      But it sounds like their manager was satisfied with their work until they mentioned their smoking, which doesn’t lead me to believe there’s been any change in productivity.

    4. Rainy*

      I had a friend back in the day who pretty reliably got through two packs a day, and was a nurse–so no smoking on the job and depending on the day, not that many smoke breaks–and did it mainly by chain smoking when she wasn’t at work. It’s certainly possible, although it was easier back when everyone smoked at their desks, I expect.

    5. IndyStacey*

      Exactly! My guess is smoke breaks ARE interfering with work. How could they not be at that volume? My mother was a two pack a day smoker. She would take “quick breaks” and then chain smoke three cigarettes at a time.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        If it were only about that, there wouldn’t be comments on weight, as well. Or comments on making the letter writer “more appealing in appearance.” Smoking may have been the trigger, but it’s about *way* more than that.

        1. BongoFury*

          It could be both, LW does take multiple short breaks during the day which is irritating the too-out-of-bounds manager.

          Either way the response from the manager is wrong. If it’s productivity it should be addressed as productivity. Not weird “Hey we’re buddies, did you know you’re fat and unappealing?” comments that help no one.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            If it’s about break time, the manger should be saying “it’s about taking smoke breaks,” not “you’re broken and I’m going to fix you.”

            It’s not about break time.

            1. Freelance Anything*

              There’s an assumption there that people always take the core issues head-on or are even able to identify them.

              We all agree the Manager is handling this badly. Given the specificity of ‘I will fix you’ as a response, I think it’s possible this is an existing problematic mindset for her. And it’s possible she’s misdirecting legitimate work concerns into the default mindset.

              It sounds convoluted because it is convoluted. And there are people who have psyches that absolutely work this way.

              You’re obviously entitled to disagree, but I don’t think dismissing it as outright impossible is warranted.

              1. Art Teacher*

                This was my thought as well. There could very well be work-related concerns, but the manager with poor boundaries somehow thinks “You know what would be better than staying in my lane and addressing these work concerns directly? Fixing every single thing about my employee’s life. I am such a good boss.”

                Both things could be true.

    6. Lynca*

      My mom had a 2-3 pack a day habit before she quit. She had plenty of time for things, she was generally just smoking while she was doing them. She actually smoked less at work because she wasn’t allowed to smoke in the building.

      I get why you would think that though. She quit almost 20 years ago and it’s kind of weird how much smoking that was in retrospect.

    7. Sarah55555*

      If you are taking more than 3 individual smoke breaks during an 8 hour day, then yes it will begin to impact. Otherwise it’s her money and her body, so it’s ultimately her business. Though I will say, no one who smokes 2-3 packs a day does not smell of it, nor does this person not smell after smoke breaks, so it would not be brand new information to her boss that she smokes.

      1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

        Honestly, OP didn’t specify one way or the other, but I was rather assuming that their boss absolutely knew they smoked and it was the volume that was new information/triggered the behavioral change.

      2. Anon Supervisor*

        It’s certainly possible to not smell too much like smoke if you never smoke at work and you never smoke indoors. I was nearly at 2 packs per day when I quit, and I know I smelled of it because I would take my 2 15’s and my 30 min lunch to smoke. I certainly knew secret smokers who kept it all at home.

        1. caps22*

          Just because no one mentioned it to you at work doesn’t mean they don’t smell it. I grew up in a smoking household, have asthma as a result, and that musty dry smell is incredibly persistent even for people who rarely smoke. I just don’t go around pointing fingers at people even if my lungs are tightening up, and rarely do smokers ask people who will be truly honest about the smell.

          1. si*

            Yeah, I smell smokers a mile off. And clothes or objects that have been around them. I had no idea the smell was that pervasive when I was a smoker though.

            1. The 5th Sense*

              Oof, I had to interview a worker two days ago as a witness in an investigation I am completing…he was a smoker and stunk up my office so much, even after he left. I was terrified the next person I met with was going to think I was the cause of the odor. I can’t imagine he knows of how bad he smells…honestly I am surprised I’ve never gotten complaints about him…though he works in an large, wide-open warehouse so maybe it’s not as noticeable out there.

          2. Free now (and forever)*

            Allergic to cigarette smoke here. If you’re a smoker I can smell you 20 feet away, even if you haven’t smoked all day. Most smokers who quit acknowledge that they never realized how much they smelled of smoke.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              My aunt said it took her two months to get a proper sense of smell back after she quit. Then she was so disgusted by how the smell of cigarettes had permeated her clothes, her furniture, her walls. She went on a massive cleaning spree and still had to throw a bunch of stuff out.

    8. anon and on*

      My ex smoked 4 packs a day. He worked in a plant where the nearest smoking area outside was a half mile walk through the building. He could manage taking one or two breaks a day, if at all. He made up for it on the commute to/from and at home.
      It was astounding.

      1. lilsheba*

        As someone who smoked for about 40 years this makes my lungs want to run away and die. I used to smoke a LOT but it was generally not more than a pack a day..4 would have killed me. BUT that aside, OP I did used to smoke and I’m still overweight, I have been for a long time…and you know what? It’s my business, just like it’s your business, and not your bosses’. What you do for a legal habit and what you weigh are NOT their concern. And it’s not up for discussion.

        And that being said although I quit smoking a few years ago now, I won’t lie I STILL crave it, even though by now I’m totally nicotine free. It’s a TOUGH habit to break. I miss how it feels to smoke. So enjoy it for me.

    9. JSPA*

      I feel like I see a lot of people, by way of smoking shame or health awareness, take a few puffs then stub out and throw away the rest (no matter how expensive). I imagine it’s like people who perpetually eat half cookies, “so the calories leak out, ha ha,” or any other emotionally complex habit, where strong positive and strong negative (or avoidant) reactions are mingled.

      And while I’ve certainly seen people pretty much go momentarily absent, while smoking (and would not care to hazard a guess whether they’re deep in the moment, or deep in quashing awareness of the moment), OP presumably knows how to tell time, and does have tolerable awareness of exactly how long they’re away from their work.

      I do feel like most smokers underestimate how much time their friends, clients and coworkers spend, getting the secondhand (thirdhand?) smell out of their own belongings, skin and hair. And for those who don’t–if OP is covering the smell with a smell blocker product (as people now can and do), the people in the office may wonder why (when the blocker wears off) they and their things smell like thirdhand smoke, or why they’re always dragging allergies and a cough.

      Thanks to those products, “we knew we had a problem, but didn’t know the source, we wondered if people were smoking outside the air intake” can absolutely be a thing.

      But all of that ignores the additional context of body and diet policing, which puts this all square in the category of, “body critique,” not “legitimate office issue directly affecting third parties.”

    10. it's just the frame of mind*

      it used to not be that uncommon for people to smoke that much. I’ve known plenty of people who had a job, had fine productivity, and had a 2-to-3 pack a day habit.

    11. Elizabeth West*

      If she only takes a couple of breaks, she could be smoking multiple cigarettes on those breaks. That’s what I used to do—I’d go take my regular 15-minute breaks, no more than that, but I managed to puff three each time. Add the morning smokes and the evening smokes in, and it’s easy to get there.

      Personally, I only did a pack and a half at my peak (any more made me feel like crap). But tolerance levels differ from person to person.

    12. Delta Delta*

      I was wondering about this, as well. The fact that OP uses the word “packets” also makes me wonder if they’re in a place where the size of the container is smaller than in the US (I think there are 20 in a pack in the US?). If someone is smoking 40-60 cigarettes a day that takes a lot of time, which may be having an impact on time spent at work.

      1. BongoFury*

        Always possible! But in NA and Europe, 20 cigarette packs are the most common. Maybe it’s different in other continents though?

          1. Worldwalker*

            If it takes 5 minutes per cigarette (including time to go to and from the smoking area, etc.) and only half of them are smoked during the working day, that’s still over 2 hours of time per day spent on smoking. That’s going to affect productivity.

            The boss is still totally out of line, of course; their job is to address the PP’s job performance, not the reasons they speculate might be the cause, unless those reasons are work-related: people keep interrupting someone and keeping them from concentrating on their work, for instance. The smoking itself (or weight, social life, private life, pets, hobbies, or anything else that isn’t work) is none of their business.

            1. Ayla*

              Those are big assumptions, though (that half are smoked during the workday and that OP takes an individual break for each).

            2. EventPlannerGal*

              I work with a lot of very heavy smokers and used to be a social smoker myself, and I must say that I’ve never really seen anyone who takes individual 5-minute breaks per individual cigarette, or at least certainly not 30-40 times in a work day. Perhaps if they were actively trying to waste time, but if you were doing that it would be easier to just take a few very long breaks. Walking back and forth to the smoking area 30-40 times a day is annoying! I’m sure somebody out there does it but I don’t think it’s very usual. I think it’s far more likely that the OP is either mainly smoking outside of work hours or is taking a few longer breaks, but probably not dozens and dozens adding up to 2+ hours.

        1. Lara*

          In EU/UK, you can legally only buy/sell cigarettes in 20 packs, to try to deter casual smokers.

    13. June*

      I also think there is no way anyone is smoking three packs a day and not burning clock time. Boss should never make comments about weight, but smoking on the job, even outside, is a fair issue. How much time is “little” time? I don’t think OP is being honest with themselves. If not on lunch or scheduled break, it’s using company time.

    14. ostentia*

      There’s no way that smoking 2-3 packs a day isn’t impacting LW’s productivity. I mean…that’s 40-60 cigarettes a day, so somewhere between 3-5 cigarettes *per hour* assuming LW is up for 12 hours a day.

      That being said, the manager apparently hasn’t said anything about productivity, which is the only thing she has an actual right to comment on here.

      1. Okay*

        People are jumping to a lot of unsubstantiated conjecture on how much time OP is spending smoking at work. It’s completely possible that the OP chain smokes on their commute or after work and only smokes a few during the work day.

        Since nothing in the letter supports the idea that the boss’s concerns are about productivity I think folks should give this angle a rest.

        1. lizesq*

          It’s weird that people are outright dismissing the idea that a person who smokes 60 cigarettes a day smokes while they’re on the clock for 8+ hours a day.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Nobody is doing that. but we have smokers and ex smokers RIGHT HERE who have said they managed 2-3 cigarettes per 15 minute break and the same at lunch and took NO extra breaks, and did the rest of their smoking at home. Is there a reason we don’t believe their word?

            1. Lenora Rose*

              (I’m not a smoker, I’m even allergic to cigarette smoke. I just find it weird that people are here *saying* what they do/did, and others are still making conjectures in the opposite direction without seeming to notice or acknowledge the comments.)

      2. si*

        Aren’t most people up for more like 16 hours a day at least? And I don’t imagine LW spreads their smoking that evenly throughout the day – I certainly never did. I’d smoke more in the evening.

    15. allathian*

      Yeah. I have a really hard time reconciling her smoking 2 or 3 packs a day (40 to 60 cigarettes) and taking “little breaks”. I mean, the only way I could buy that is if she’s working from home and smoking at her desk. Otherwise, she’s going to be away from her desk for at least a few minutes per cigarette, probably more, depending on how long it takes to get to wherever she can light up.

      Like many smokers, I suspect that she’s severely underestimating the time she spends on smoking rather than working. Granted, I think that it’s unreasonable to expect people to be 100% productive at work, even when they’re sitting at their desk, but still.

      The time the OP spends on smoking while she’s supposed to be working is the only thing the manager has any standing to comment on, though.

    16. Candi*

      That was my first thought. My ex-mother-in-law was disabled and couldn’t work, and was a pack a day to two packs a day smoker. She smoked nearly constantly while she was awake to achieve that, and she slept an average of 8-10 hours. (My ex and I lived with his parents until I dumped him and walked out with the kids.)

      While the boss has no standing to discuss the smoking as a habit, she absolutely has standing to discuss taking frequent smoke breaks during work hours, short or not. It’s no different from if someone were playing games, reading, or doing creative writing on the clock instead of their work.

      She absolutely needs to lay off the bugging OP about the weight, period. If excessive snack breaks are an issue, address that, just as with excessive breaks for any other optional reason.

  3. Whatever I am today*

    Every smoker I’ve ever worked with took advantage of “smoke breaks” when the rest of us did not get such breaks. Just sayin’

        1. Momma Bear*

          I joke that I take “non smoke breaks” where I walk around the building to get some fresh air when my brain is fried.

        2. Lexie*

          I’ve been in the situation where supervisors (who were extremely opposed to smoking and tried to get people to quit) would make sure they knew who the smokers were, make sure the smokers got smoke breaks, instructed the rest of us to cover the smokers duties (type of job that has to be covered every minute of the day), and only offered one meal break to the rest of us. We were lucky if we got to go to the bathroom.

      1. Antilles*

        Honestly, in many cases, I’m not even sure it’s the fault of the employer.
        Smokers often seem to be completely willing to just announce “hey, I’m taking a five minute smoke break” and just making that stick. Meanwhile, other employees at those same companies probably could get away with a similar decision if they tried but just don’t think of it and/or don’t push for it.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          People in my place take “walk breaks.” They walk around the perimeter of the complex; in winter they walk the long hallway that connects all the buildings.
          And a coffee break can be in the cafeteria and can also be a soda pop break.
          It’s great because it’s normalized taking a break (from desk jobs upstairs) because you want to take a break.

          1. I can’t think of a clever name*

            I agree that it’s important to normalize taking a quick break. I worked at a restaurant years ago and the smokers got breaks, so I simply asked the manager for a 10-minute “fresh air break” where I sat outside on a bench and got out of the hectic, dark, stuffy restaurant. They didn’t have a problem with it at all. You might as well ask.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I started doing that on my job when I was new. The office “queen bee” didn’t take regular breaks tho she had lots of time to chatter with her friends and put all the calls on hold for someone else (me) to answer. My state mandates breaks and I started taking that morning and afternoon walk outside around the building. I’d be back at my desk in less than 10 minutes and she’d be giving me a sideways stink-eye. Like, wow, I was getting away with murder.

          3. Clandestine Timoraetta*

            If it’s an office people are basically “taking breaks” all the time. By going to gab with other people, getting water, getting coffee, running out to the car. Pretty sure the majority of people in the office spend MUCH time…not actually working. Which is actually fine if they get their work done.

        2. Kella*

          The one and only time I worked somewhere, where people would take smoke breaks in addition to their legally mandated breaks, the few times I’d add 5-10 minutes to my lunch break, my boss would criticize me for it but he never said anything about the extra smoke breaks the others were taking. And it wasn’t a coverage issue. Also relevant, I was getting far more work done as a baseline. That absolutely was a manager/employer issue though. He had no idea how to manage employees or run a company. I actually feel bad for those kids (the smokers were all around 18) because I think they were taught some terrible work norms from working there and I imagine it was not a fun transition when they got their first job elsewhere.

        3. MsSolo UK*

          You can always phrase it as a “screen break” – it’s better for your eyes and your circulation to get out of your chair and go stare out a window or take a walk at least once an hour. I do think normalising regularly breaks is important.

      2. SMT*

        My brother started smoking so he could take smoke breaks with a girl he liked at his fast food job. His manager wouldn’t let him take “smoke breaks” unless he smoked.

    1. TransmascJourno*

      That’s pretty uncharitable. Plenty of people who do smoke make sure, first and foremost, never to inconvenience their coworkers or managers.

      1. Rananculus*

        And plenty of the people being uncharitable toward smokers are parents who expect huge accommodation for tending to their families’ needs.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          This is unnecessary. Also, if you’ve been keeping track of which commenters here are parents who think that parents should get accommodations to deal with childcare needs, that’s weird. I’m assuming, though, that you’re just guessing on that part.

        2. Holey Hobby*

          Yeah, don’t. This comment probably says more about you than you realize or intend.

        3. Candi*

          Smoking is 100% unnecessary to do.

          Some people have to have kids to keep the species going, and it’s best that it’s the ones who want to to do that.

          Totally different topics.

      2. KateM*

        You wanted to say they TRY to make sure. They have sometimes weird understanding of how to do it.

        1. TransmascJourno*

          I’m actually a smoker. I also know how to be a courteous, productive, and contentious employee (and as of recently, a middle manager.) This is unkind.

          1. lizesq*

            Sure, and plenty of people, smokers or not, do not know how to be any of those things. I don’t understand the push back on people sharing their experiences with smoking colleagues who are not considerate by smokers who claim to be perfect bastions of professionalism.

              1. TransmascJourno*

                To clarify—I’m fully aware of how dangerous smoking is, and I’ve tried to quit a number of times. (I’m currently attempting to do so as I type this, actually!) But even when I was at a pack a day, I never let it interfere with work—a high-stress job that requires a fastidious adherence to hard deadlines. It’s possible to be a smoker, to prioritize, and be mindful.

    2. Don*

      “Someone else gets something I don’t” is an issue to raise with your boss, not your coworker. Though you run the risk of them thinking less of you for sounding like a grade school child complaining about their sibling when it’s over a five minute outing you could just take yourself. Go for a walk and call it your smoke break if you mind so much.

    3. Ted Mosby*

      I will say, the only problems I’ve ever had with coworkers who were smokers weren’t the smoke breaks, but rather that they smelled so strongly of cigarettes it was impossible to talk with or be near them for more than a few minutes at a time. I’m sure there are good ways to combat this and I think the boss is MAJORLY overstepping either way here but it’s certainly something to keep in mind.

        1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          That is a big reason why I’m staying WFH. My coworker, while great and highly competent, smokes and we used to sit within arms reach of each other. The second hand smoke would trigger my asthma. I know it wasn’t intentional, and like a lot of smokers was always trying to quit. It’s a hard habit to break, but I sure don’t miss that.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yes. If the smell is in fact an issue, it would be absolutely acceptable for the boss to say, “the smell of smoke makes it difficult for people to work with you in the office/is off-putting to clients, and I need you to find some way of eliminating or drastically reducing that.” But the boss hasn’t said that, and her approach is not helpful at all.

        1. MelMc*

          As long as their idea of “eliminating” the smoke smell isn’t to pour on perfume. We had a contractor that did that. She used to think I was very enthusiastic about unlocking the room she had to work in. In reality her smell was so pungent and long-lasting that I would jog down the hallway just to make sure she never got near my office once I spotted her. I don’t know if it was a particular combination of the perfume she chose plus the smoke but the smell would linger for hours even if she just stood in my office long enough for me to grab my keys and walk out. We were all glad when she retired.

          1. Holey Hobby*

            I had an olfactory flashback to an old coworker of mine. Virginia Slims and Amarige. It was stomach churning. Just the memory makes me queasy.

          2. DJ Abbott*

            Regular perfumes that aren’t made with all natural ingredients have chemical scents that are very clingy and last for hours. Even without the smoke I find them offputting, and some of them make me sneeze.

        2. yala*

          Yeah, that’s the only think I can think of that the boss could potentially have a reason to comment on, but the fact that they talked about “fixing” OP and making them “appealing in appearance” says to me that it’s not so much about any difficulty OP is bringing to the workplace, and purely about the boss’s own vanity.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        I really don’t care if my colleagues smoke, but if they’re smoking or they’ve just got back from a smoke break, I can’t be anywhere near them because my asthma doesn’t like that one bit. (Luckily, this is not a problem at my current job.)
        And OP’s boss needs to realize that she’s a work mentor, not a health coach.

      3. KoiFeeder*

        I had a classmate in undergrad who would reliably induce anaphylaxis (vomiting + throat swelling shut- a bad time) in me just by sitting three chairs away- not because he was a particularly prolific smoker, but because I am that sensitive to what he was smoking. I basically couldn’t work with him in any capacity because just being near him could have killed me.

      4. Lexie*

        I had a couple of coworkers who spritzed themselves with Febreeze before coming inside and it took people a while to catch on they were smokers.

    4. CatPrance*

      30 minutes for lunch, 15 minutes morning and afternoon. You don’t get those? I’m sorry.

      1. yala*

        I mean, when I worked as a dishwasher, my coworkers who smoked could go outside and sit down for a cigarette during a lull. It wasn’t an official break, but it was something they could do. I was starting to understand why so many restaurant workers smoked–I was almost willing to at least hold a cigarette and pretend if it got me off my feet for a few minutes!

        But it’s not like they were *taking* something from me and I was never in the lurch because of it.

    5. anonymous73*

      Here we go again. It’s not a competition. Are you chained to your desk from 9-5 with only a lunch break? Do you get up and take a walk to the kitchen every once in a while to grab a snack? Do you have chats with co-workers? If you aren’t allowed to take breaks, that’s an issue with management. If you are allowed and choose not to, that’s on you.

      1. Tina*

        Are you suggesting that smokers replace snack breaks and chatting to colleague with their smoke breaks, rather than taking them in addition? Because that has NOT been my experience at all!

        1. anonymous73*

          You’re completely missing my point. If there’s a productivity issue, then that needs to be addressed. Otherwise, it’s not anyone’s business to micromanage the time of others.

        2. D'Arcy*

          Yeah, it’s always been my experience that smokers constantly grab *extra* breaks which they excuse as being “little”, and many managers are bizarrely tolerant of this where they *do not* tolerate any sort of equivalent extra break time for anyone who isn’t a smoker.

      2. Pennyworth*

        Some people who never leave their desks can be very unproductive. I’ve encountered quite a few.

    6. ferrina*

      I take a couple 5-10 minute coffee breaks every day. A couple short breaks a day is needed- what you do during that time is up to you. I have worked at a place that favored smoke breaks over other kinds, but that was a company-culture issue, not a smoking issue.

    7. Tried*

      Okay so would you rather have to live with a deadly addiction? If so you’re welcome to start smoking at any time. I don’t get why people get hung up on the fact that smokers “get” something they don’t, when they price they pay for it is so high.

    8. Elizabeth West*

      Well, you didn’t work with me, because I just smoked on my regular allowed breaks.

    9. June*

      I’m glad no smoking allowed on my job campus. No one can sneak out multiple times a day as in another job I had. It’s enforced.

  4. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    Might the LW be from elsewhere (not the US)? Some of the wording makes me think this is the case. I don’t know if that would change Alison’s answer, except to maybe not point out state laws, but maybe?

    1. TypityTypeType*

      “Packet” rather than “pack” sounds like LW may not be in the U.S. (or not from the U.S. originally, perhaps). But obviously the advice to politely tell boss to mind her own business would stand.

  5. ExSmoker*

    I imagine this comment section will turn into both a lot of attacks on smokers and unhelpful advice about how OP should quit and the books or programs you used or whatever. I would like to assure you every smoker in the world knows the health consequences of smoking and I would also like to remind you quitting nicotine is one of the most difficult addictions in the world to quit. OP can only do it on their own time when they’re ready and all the internet shaming in the world will not help. Same goes for weight loss.

    If you had bosses that allowed ‘smoke breaks’ and not other breaks, that is the fault of your management and not someone who smokes. It took me years and years to finally quit cigarettes and I always feel defensive of those who are not at that place in their journey of life because I understand the struggle first hand. So be kind and try to use some empathy before jumping down OP’s throat. Tyvm.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Alison, could you add a note that in some jobs there is an OSHA requirement to train employees on the dangers of smoking and provide smoking cessation materials? For example, anywhere employees may encounter asbestos as part of their job duties.

        I know it doesn’t apply for every job, but it’s important people know that this is a possibility so they don’t think a manager is being unprofessional if it comes up.

    1. MEH Squared*

      100% this. I used to smoke a few cigarettes a day (yes, two or three cigarettes a day), and I had a doctor tell me it was as bad as smoking a pack a day. Which, come on. That kind of talk isn’t helping anyone.

      Believe me, every smoker knows that smoking is bad for them. They really don’t need a reminder or to be told they should quit. I was forced to quit by a huge medical trauma, which I would not recommend to anyone.

      1. Pants*

        I find the same thing with fat. I know I’m fat. I don’t need a yelled reminder from some “helpful” shartface from their car window as they pass. I don’t need anyone tiptoeing around it. I’m well aware of my weight, thanks.

        I assume it’s similar with smoking. It’s not like you can miss the warnings on the packets. Or the tv commercials. Or the aforementioned “helpful” shartfaces.

        I’m sure smokers probably get a lot of the same crispity crap during visits that fat people get. No matter why you go in, the cause is smoking/fat. Sinus infection? Smoker/Fat. Pulled tendon? Smoker/Fat. Allergic to ragweed? Smoker/Fat. In a mental health crisis? Smoker/Fat.

        Shartfaces are everywhere.

          1. MEH Squared*

            Ha! Something about ‘use your words, Pants’ made me chuckle out loud. But, yes, it’s true. I’m also fat and the things that doctor have said to my face about my weight….it’s so frustrating (even more so than the smoking thing for me) and doesn’t seem to be changing. I have ‘broken up’ with doctors for their bad attitudes about weight.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              I still go to a doctor that two moves later is super inconvenient for me to get to simply because he doesn’t reduce everything to weight/didn’t dismiss me when I started gaining weight unexpectedly. It’s a rare find.

            2. Pants*

              I also use “show your work, Pants” a lot when I jump from one thing to another and get the “where did THAT come from?!” look. I suck at math, but that phrase is still handy. :-)

              I had a doctor ages ago that would ASK if you wanted to be weighed because they found that people put off appointments due to scale-anxiety. This was back in the 90s. We need more of that doc. (He’s long retired.) I mean, what does that say about the health industry? People put off doctor appointments simply because they don’t want to be weighed and lectured. Yuck.

              1. BongoFury*

                I always ask
                What would you say if I were a “normal” BMI?
                And their response tells me everything I need to know about the doctor. :)

                1. Pants*

                  Any doctor who tries to BMI me is immediately fired. The whole BMI metric was constructed based on the bodies of European white men. Last I looked, there are lots of people in the world that are not European white men. A doctor who does not know this or acknowledge it is not one I want to assess my medical needs.

        1. Dasein9*

          Yep! Fat and trans here. Sometimes they don’t know which to blame my entirely unrelated issues on.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          Those doctors are actively dangerous and I for one vote that their patients fire them.

          Into the sun.

          (Yeah, I know it’s not that simple in real life. But a fish can dream, right?)

        3. Summer*

          @Pants – Yes! I couldn’t agree more! I used to have a doctor that told me she would never mention my weight unless I wanted her to. I loved that doc so much! I was so bummed when she moved out of state.

        4. ceiswyn*

          And that is why it took ten years before anyone diagnosed my broken ankle. By the time anyone bothered to send me to X-ray, part of the bone had detached and gotten ground up inside the joint.

          And if that makes you wince, imagine how it felt trying to ‘eat less and move more’ on that mess.

    2. anonymous73*

      I said something similar about weight loss. Nobody has ever lost weight and gotten healthy because someone told them to (unless it was your doctor and you had a health scare).

      1. nona*

        Even a doctor telling you to lose fat rarely results in fat actually being lost. The body doesn’t like to let go of resources, health scare or not.

        Also, losing weight =/= getting healthy. Those can be mutually exclusive things.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      I intensely dislike the smell of tobacco (nobody hates smoking like the children of smokers – unless they become smokers themselves). However, I know better than OP’s manager. There is no point in trying to get a smoker to quit. Unless they ask you for help & you have some sort of knowledge of how to support them.

      OP – Your boss is a busybody, & I’m sorry this is happening to you.

    4. Shenandoah*

      Whew this. If it was easy, no one would smoke and we would all have the exact body size we wanted.

      1. Pants*

        Your comment reminds me of people who respond to depression with “cheer up!”

        Thanks, I hadn’t thought of that.

    5. Bernice Clifton*

      So much this! You’re not making a smoker aware about ways to quit by talking about how your neighbor’s sister-in-law quit by using the patch/Chantix/hypnosis/essential oils.

      It’s like telling someone who is trying to conceive that someone you know did in vetro or adopted or stopped trying and then it just happened.

    6. Lynca*

      I’m the child of a smoker. 100% agree with you that no one should be attacking the OP and I’m really disheartened that the comments quickly turned to “you must be taking too many breaks/how can you get anything done/etc.”

      My mom was multi-pack a day smoker and an excellent worker. I know she was because people told me how much they liked working with her and how hard they felt she worked! But if I mention the smoking I’ve had people assume the worst of her. I really wish people wouldn’t do that and see that even if you don’t like smoking (and I do not like it) that doesn’t mean the person isn’t worthy of respect and autonomy.

    7. Chauncy Gardener*

      Came here to say this! Someone once told me that quitting cigarettes could be as hard as quitting hard drugs. I’ve never done hard drugs, but quitting smoking darn near killed me. The withdrawal was intense when I finally could make the cold turkey last and that itself took multiple tries. It was physically and psychologically one of the hardest thing I ever did. I think I got through by sheer brute will power, but I think I sobbed and shook for a good week and a half. Awful. Obviously, I’m extremely glad I did it, but you will never hear me flippantly say, “Oh, just quit!”

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Nicotine is one of the most physically addictive chemicals known to man. The effects are milder than, say, heroin, but quitting is as challenging.

        (My brother smoked at one point. Decided it was too expensive, so he tossed the half a pack he had left and that was that. No withdrawal, no cravings, nothing. His fiancé left him over it, because she couldn’t quit no matter how hard she tried. He’s a freak of nature in other ways, too.)

      2. Anon Supervisor*

        I tried cold turkey and couldn’t do it. The withdrawal was the worst. I had to go on Chantix (and I didn’t really want to) to finally quit. It was a miracle drug for me, but it was still really difficult with the side effects. Also, it wears off after a while (a lot like antidepressants), so after being off of it for 6 months (I took it for 6 months), I briefly backslid. Luckily I was able to stop again because the thought of going through the quitting process is the only thing that keeps me from lighting up again.

        OP, I hope you get your manager to stop shaming you and I hope that, should you decide to quit smoking, you keep at it. Hardest and best thing I ever did. But, I get it, enjoy those smokes!

      3. Cat named Brian*

        Same. Smoked for 10 years, had withdrawal symptoms for a year, pains, shakes, sweats. Still 25 years later, I could pick up a cigarette and start right back up. Struggle is real! Absolutely 1 of the hardest things I ever did….

    8. Homebody*

      Thank you for saying this. When we judge the OP for smoking and gaining weight we are no better than the boss they wrote in about.

      One of my loved ones works to help others recover from addictions like smoking/drinking/etc., and she likes to say that we all have our own addictions, some are just more socially acceptable than others. Mine just happens to be chocolate so I don’t get too much hate for it. :)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, mine are chocolate and caffeine. When I finally wrote my master’s thesis after all the research I drank it by the gallon, or nearly. I think my record in one 24-hour period was 20 cups! I’d brew a pot, drink a few cups, write until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, sleep for about 90 minutes (one sleep cycle), get up, drink some more coffee, continue writing… It wasn’t sustainable for long, and I had to rewrite much of what I wrote because I was so anxious from too much coffee, and exhausted as well. I did get it written and approved, and that’s all that counts.

        Now I drink 6 or 7 cups of coffee every day…

    9. EchoGirl*

      To me, the fact that the boss is lumping the smoking together with the employee’s weight makes it pretty clear it’s not about actual, practical issues that the smoking is causing for the workplace. If it really was just that OP smelled like smoke/was taking too many breaks, there’d be no need to mention weight as well, let alone make the comment about being “appealing in appearance”.

    10. AnonyNurse*

      Job really stressful? Boss all over you? Family crises? Global pandemic?

      I’m going to insist on taking away your intensely addictive coping strategy at this very stressful moment. I’m not going to replace it with anything. Please continue on this already stressful treadmill while going through withdrawal, losing not just the nicotine but also the routines that bring comfort. And we will shame you when you struggle.

      THAT is what we do to smokers.

      – a never smoker who is highly sensitive to smoke (migraines, etc) but tries to be realistic in our societal expectations

  6. MEH Squared*

    Your manager is wildly out of line, OP. My first response was just a string of obscenities, which wouldn’t help anything. I think you should address it once with your manager and then bring it to your HR if you think they’re any good. The way she’s bragging to your coworkers that she’s going to fix you is not professional in any sense of the word (or helpful).

    1. MEH Squared*

      This goes both for the smoking and for the weight comments. Neither are appropriate as she is trying to shame you into behaving as she thinks you should. (Which never works, honestly.) If there is no issue with your productivity (which seems to be the case, given that it only started when you brought up how much you smoked), then feel fine with shutting it down.

      If she continues with her comments, then she’s not willing to salvage the relationship, unfortunately. It would not be on you.

    2. Chauncy Gardener*

      Yes. Bragging to OP’s co-workers is absolutely horrifying. I’m surprised none of them have gone to HR about it themselves!

  7. Wants Green Things*

    If you go to HR, make sure you mention the “attractive in appearance” comment, especially if you can get the coworker who shared that to write it up, because that moves solidly into Sexual Harrassment territory.

    And her comments are way out of line but Alison says, double check for not-immediately-noticeable ways your smoking may impact your coworkers, because 2-3 packs is 40 to 60 cigarettes, and that is… really a lot.

    1. All Het Up About It*

      I gasped SO LOUD at that line.
      Could not believe. Just WTF is wrong with people? Not only that the manager is thinking it, but SAYING it to OP’s co-worker(s.)

    2. quill*

      Yeeeeeah that appearance comment makes me think that it’s not because manager sees a way OP could be more productive (by quitting smoking and taking less breaks, which is fundamentally overstepping) or because manager is suddenly concerned about OP’s health (still an overstep) but that Manager wants their team to look / act a certain way and smoking large numbers of cigarettes does not fit it. And if OP is a woman it’s pretty easy to see how “attractive in appearance, not just substance” is a quick slide towards “she doesn’t LOOK that professional.”

      1. Salymander*

        Yeah it seems like manager might be one of those folks who say they want their team to look good because it makes manager look good. These folks can get really pushy and boundary crossing in their quest to control others as a way to make themselves look good. It is such a toxic, superficial mindset.

    3. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      I literally had to put my phone down for a minute at that point. You can’t SAY THAT, oh my god.

    4. Julia*

      It does not, in fact, move this solidly into sexual harassment territory, at least not from a legal perspective. A single comment like that is not enough to make the case for sexual harassment. It is, however, additional evidence of the inappropriateness of LW’s boss’s involvement in their life. (The exact wording was “appealing in appearance”, btw.)

      1. Rosemary*

        I agree. Definitely not appropriate, but I took it as a “put together; makes our team look good” type of context, not in a sexual harassment kind of way (assuming it is not part of pattern of boss commenting on OP’s appearance)

    5. Two Cents*

      Yeah I would highlight the comment about appearance in a talk with HR not because of it being sexual harassment (not on its own anyway) but because it underscores the motivations behind the comments. The manager isn’t concerned about OP’s work; they’re concerned about having a heavy smoker on their team and how that looks.

    6. Worldwalker*

      Yeah…”attractive”? Who is it the OP’s job to attract?

      Nobody, I’d venture to guess.

    7. Ellie*

      Yes, that comment is so out of line and really underlines that this is not some time-management issue. This person is trying to run OP’s life, and I’d be bringing along the gym pamphlet to any HR meeting as well.

  8. anonymous73*

    1. Please stop making excuses for her. Her intentions are irrelevant. If the smoking is not affecting your work, it’s none of her business. Period.
    2. Even if the smoking WAS affecting your productivity, the ONLY thing she should be addressing is the amount of breaks you were taking. The smoking would again be none of her business.
    3. Stop changing the subject and tell her to STOP. I personally wouldn’t use Alison’s words, but you seem very concerned about maintaining your relationship her, so it would probably be best to use her examples.
    4. As far as your weight is concerned (and I say this as someone who has struggled with her weight since childhood), if you want to guarantee that someone will not make healthier choices, tell them they need to lose weight. Overweight folks are well aware that they are overweight, and you telling them is not going to make a difference other than hurt them or piss them off. Unless you are a super close friend or family member and are genuinely concerned about their health, mind your business (and even in that case, you still need to tread carefully).

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      I wish I could upvote or like this comment with an award or something.

      I’ll also throw in a challenge to “I also understand she does all this for my own benefit”. She may think it’s for your benefit, but trying to make others into what we think they should be is really more about us than it is about them. It says “I think I know better than you what’s good for you and I’m going to disrespect your autonomy by shoving my beliefs down your throat.” And it doesn’t matter whether what we think is objectively healthier or safer. There isn’t one among us whose own life is so perfect that we have any business trying to run other people’s lives, too.

      1. anonymous73*

        Why thank you. I have zero patience for people being in my business. And I also have zero patience for people who use the “I had good intentions” excuse. “Good intentions” are rarely more than judgement, or a way to excuse bad behavior.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          We know what the road to hell is paved with, eh?

          The term where I’m from is “malice ridden do-gooder.” The sort who will make you a better person even if it – literally – kills you.

    2. RR*

      Yeah, i wouldn’t be very polite about it. Actually, i had a manager in the past that critiqued my food I had at lunch, my weight, etc. I asked him once to stop. When that didn’t happen, i told him to “mind your own f-ing business and worry about your own damn food.” that put a stop to it. I am not the only one that had issues though, because not that long after the great-grandboss called and talked to a few of us about him and I was chosen randomly. He was fired shortly after.

    3. Why isn*

      I feel you so much on number 4. I’ve been overweight almost my entire life, and my relatives and close family members made so many comments they thought were loving/helpful. The only result was to send me into a shame/anxiety spiral, which would then cause me to overeat. I’m obviously more resilient as an adult, but it still hurts. My FIL’s first reaction to meeting me was to say to my husband “But she’s so big.” I still hate him for saying that. When will it finally sink in that it’s not ok to comment on other people’s appearances? Especially in the workplace.

      1. Summer*

        OMG I literally gasped and my eyes bugged out at your FIL’s comment. What the actual eff?!? Who says stuff like that? I’m flip-a-table enraged on your behalf! What did your husband say?

      2. ceiswyn*

        My (ex) MIL and FIL staged an intervention about my weight because they were worried it would affect my chances of children. My MIL once closed MY kitchen cupboard as I went in for a snack because ‘I didn’t need that’.

        My ex (for other reasons) never did understand why I didn’t get on with his folks…

      3. Nope, not today*

        he sounds like my uncle who saw me for the first time since I was about 16 and opened with ‘you got fat’

        I was six months pregnant at the time, and also years had passed. Still hate that man.

    4. Sara without an H*

      I am probably inappropriately skeptical about “helpfulness.” No, OP, your boss is NOT doing this for your “benefit.” She sees herself as “helpful,” and “helpful” people often need people to fix. You are her latest project.

      OP, I understand your desire to protect your relationship with your boss, especially since she’s gone to bat for you in the past, but her behavior is definitely overreach and you will need to shut it down before it gets worse. Alison’s script is fine, and you can adjust it to your own situation, but please be very, very clear that your personal life and habits are not subjects for discussion at work. Full stop.

      Keep track of any interactions with your boss that aren’t fully professional, just in case you have to escalate this to HR. And you may have to put your boss on what I think Captain Awkward calls a “low information diet” about anything going on in your personal life.

    5. LittleMarshmallow*

      We had a front desk admin that was very openly judgy about the eating habits of our more overweight employees. And then she wondered why no one ever invited her to lunch…. Uhhh you can’t call someone fat and then expect them to want to be friendly with you…

  9. NYC Taxi*

    Is your job public facing or do you deal with clients? No one wants to smell cigarette smoke on someone they’re working with.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      If that were the issue it would have theoretically come up before this conversation

      1. Antilles*

        Also: If that were the issue, it would be purely about the cigarettes – rather than the boss *also* being concerned about weight and going to the gym and appearance and etc.

      2. ferrina*

        It may not have. I have a sensitive nose, and I’m not always sure if others can smell what I’m smelling.

        That said, Antilles’ comment still stands- the boss is talking about appearance and health, not smell sensitivity. Nothing here indicates that the OP is unkempt or presenting unprofessionally.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I was wondering if the smell from the smoking was bothering co-workers. I don’t think smokers realize how the smoke clings to their clothes. I remember that when one co-worker walked by, I could always tell if she’d just smoked – I could smell it.

          But in that case, maybe the manager could ask the LW to maybe wear a jacket or something to absorb the smell while smoking?

    2. TR1211*

      Even if it was, her boss is not going about it the right way. She needs to be direct and say “your smoking is bothering other people.” That doesn’t sound like what’s happening here. She’s going after her appearance. That’s not acceptable.

      1. CatPrance*

        There’s nothing that the boss said that suggests OP’s smoking is bothering other people. OP’s weight gain bothers her boss.

  10. KellifromCanada*

    It’s possible that the cigarette smell is very unpleasant for OP’s colleagues, so the manager is trying to curtail it by saying that it’s just out of concern for OP’s wellbeing. I used to work in an office with a heavy smoker, and when she went outside to smoke during the colder weather (let’s face it … half the year in my part of the world), the smell of smoke would cling to her and her clothes. It was quite nauseating.

    I’ve also managed smokers, and I have to say that they took umpteen breaks per day, were never at their desks, and their productivity really suffered. I had to constantly baby-sit them to get any work out of them.

    On the other hand, the manager might just be one of those pushy, I-know-what’s-best-for-you types!

    1. CatPrance*

      I worked with people who smoked, for decades. I never had any issues with them being any more inaccessible or unproductive than any other coworker. Baby-sitting was not required due to their smoking, and I’m really surprised that you’re painting so many people with such a unpleasant broad brush.

      1. Yorick*

        In the past, my coworkers who smoked took all the same kinds of small breaks throughout the day that I and others did, plus several smoke breaks every day. Unless they’re extremely conscientious about not taking extra time away from work, smokers probably are unavailable more than non-smokers.

        1. Bernice Clifton*

          I smoked for years at various office jobs and didn’t take excessive breaks and more than a few coworkers tell me that they had no idea that I smoked (so they could not smell it on me). Perhaps you have confirmation bias.

        2. doreen*

          That depends on the co-workers, doesn’t it? I smoke and I never took as much time away from my work as some of my non-smoking co-workers, who took a half hour to eat breakfast and read the newspaper when they arrived at work or who had long personal phone calls, or who took an hour for lunch rather than a half hour.

          Although I do wonder about the letter-writer – 40-60 cigarettes a day is a lot and while I won’t say it’s impossible to get to that level by having a few at work and chain-smoking when you aren’t working , I do think it’s uncommon so I agree with Alison that the LW should be sure that availability isn’t part of the issue.

        3. anonymous73*

          I’ve also worked with plenty of people who spent the day chatting/playing games/checking the social media/etc. instead of working. The smoke breaks are irrelevant. The productivity should be the focus.

      2. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yeah, I have worked with plenty of smokers who were extremely productive employees. If there is an issue with too many breaks or needing to babysit people, then that’s a problem with the people, not a problem caused by their addiction.

      3. KellifromCanada*

        Hi CatPrance, that was just my experience with the people I managed. I’m sure there are smokers out there who are productive. Perhaps I was just unlucky.

    2. ADidgeridooForYou*

      But it doesn’t sound like this person is taking a lot of breaks or that their productivity is suffering – based on the letter it sounds like the manager was perfectly happy with OP until they mentioned their smoking. Also, I’m not a smoker myself, but for what it’s worth, I’ve worked with a number of smokers before and I honestly wouldn’t have even known if they hadn’t told me (they weren’t gone from their desks any more than anyone else and I couldn’t smell it on their clothes).

      I know that smoking is a frowned upon habit (I’m someone who has sensitivities to smells so I know it can be unpleasant), but I think we need to be kinder with our assumptions and comments here. If this person had written in purely about the manager’s weight gain comments and left out the smoking part, we would be a lot more charitable and upset at the manager’s over-stepping. Or if someone had written in and said that they eat X number of Big Macs each day and the manager had commented on it, I believe the comments here would generally be kinder in nature, even though the habit is also unhealthy.

    3. Nea*

      I say this as someone who reacts very badly to tobacco and other smoked substances – the boss hasn’t brought up OP’s coworkers. Not to OP, not when bragging to a third party.

      Boss has, instead, explicitly said that the end goal is to “fix” OP with the specific intent of making OP “appealing.”

      Worse, who is making this decision? “The smell of your clothing is distressing coworkers; do not smell of smoke in the office” is at least an objective, achievable, testable goal – do the clothes smell or not?

      “You are now appealing” is heavily subjective. Whose test for appealing and how is it to be applied? Is smoke and weight the only thing, or is Boss going to decide to redo OP’s makeup, wardrobe, etc., to be “appealing” as well?

      1. Yorick*

        Totally agree, the “appealing” comment is really troubling and shows that this whole thing is different than it might have been otherwise.

      2. TyphoidMary*

        EXACTLY, that line is part of why I absolutely DO NOT believe this has anything to do with productivity or smells.

    4. All the words*

      Apparently you didn’t manage your staff who smoked very well if their behavior was as you describe.

      I apologize to Alison for being unkind here, but this whole thread is dripping with smoker hate.

      1. Holey Hobby*

        I was actually just thinking the opposite. Everyone is so anxious to please Allison and obey the orders at the top of the comments that this comment section has become bizarrely pro-smoking. People are twisting themselves into pretzels to say how great smoking and smokers are, how impossible it is to quit, how smokers don’t take more breaks, they don’t smell, they do not endanger others… Like the real problem is people who have problems with smoking.

        This place gets like a lunchroom full of preteen girls sometimes, I swear.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s not pro-smoking, though. It’s a recognized fact that nicotine is one of the toughest addictive substances to quit. It’s a fact, not an excuse.

          SOME smokers smell worse than others. SOME smokers take too many breaks. Not ALL smokers do; your mileage may vary. The point is that unless the OP’s smoking is affecting her work or her coworkers in some way, it’s none of the boss’s business. And judging by what the boss actually said as the OP reported, Boss’s actions aren’t about any of that.

            1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

              Is it? I don’t read Elizabeth’s comment as pro-smoking, but as anti-generalization.

            2. Anon4this*

              So simply acknowledging & stating FACTS about smokers is “the comment section becoming bizarrely pro-smoking”?

              I think you need some perspective.

        2. Observer*

          So, far THIS is the cattiest (and most sexist) comment I’ve seen on this thread…

          What people are pointing out is not that smoking is a great habit that never has any repercussions for others. What they are pointing out is:

          1. Smoking does not necessarily affect others. Based on what the OP says, they are not smoking inside the office. And they probably don’t smell of smoke either or the Boss would have already realized how heavy of a smoker they are.

          2. If you have a problem with the OP’s work or how their behavior affects others (eg smell, too many breaks) then you address THOSE problems. But the Boss is blathering about the “terrible habit” *and the OP’S weight* which has ABSOLUTELY NO effect on others!

          3. The OP’s Boss has explicitly stated that their goals it so make the OP “appealing in appearance”. Again, this has NOTHING to do with ANYTHING the boss has standing on.

            1. Observer*

              It is ironic. But seriously, the comment really sounded like a caricature of all of the stereotypes about “high school girls” rolled together.

        3. ABear*

          Maybe everyone is just sick of people with an addiction being stereotyped as smelly, lazy, ne’er-do-wells? I haven’t seen anyone on here say that smoking is good for your health or recommend anyone start. Do you think it’s pro-smoking to simply stop publicly shaming smokers whenever the topic comes up? Shame makes us smoke even more.

        4. BigHairNoHeart*

          I’m not seeing anyone saying how great smoking/smokers are? Also, it’s pretty unkind to call commenters a room full of preteen girls. This comment probably says more about you than you realize or intend.

        5. Jora Malli*

          I haven’t seen any pro-smoking comments. I’ve seen pro-MYOB about other people’s bodies comments and I’ve seen comments encouraging people not to prejudge OP based on her smoking status, but neither of those kinds of comments is pro-smoking.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            Eh, I loved smoking and didn’t really want to quit, but I very much knew that it was bad for me and quitting was a good thing. I wouldn’t call myself pro-smoking, but I definitely understand why it’s so hard to give up.

        6. Summer*

          @Holey Hobby – Ugh. Any letters related to smoking and/or weight just seem to bring out the holier than thou, condescending, patronizing, and unhelpful. Oh no, people trying to be kind and helpful in a comment section! People actually listening to instructions! Whatever shall we do?

          You seem to think that just because people aren’t demonizing the LW, everyone is suddenly pro-smoking. It’s almost like you have an ax to grind and haven’t actually read the comments.

        7. moonstone*

          Uh what? None of the comments I see are “pro smoking”. They are just calling out the inappropriateness of the manager’s behaviors.

      2. KellifromCanada*

        My smoker-staff were unionized, and it was a government shop, so managing their performance was a little more challenging than it might have been in some places. No one would ever get fired unless they set the place on fire, no matter their productivity level.

    5. Tired*

      Lots of projection going on this thread.

      OP’s boss didn’t say anything about their productivity or smell. However, she DID bring up the OP’s weight and appearance in pretty awful ways. Showing pretty clearly that this is motivated by judgmental concern trolling, fatphobia, and lack of compassion towards people with addiction, and not actual performance problems, or anything else that’s her business.

    6. BethRA*

      Even if one or both of those things are true – the smell of smoke on OP’s clothing has become a problem for coworkers/clients, the number of breaks impacting productivity – the manager should address those issues directly, and not try to badger OP into quitting.

      Or losing weight.

    7. mreasy*

      In that case the manager should say: 1) you take too many breaks and 2) the cigarette smell lingers & bothers your colleagues. Not: here’s a pamphlet about bronchitis, also you’re too fat.

      1. Despachito*


        I also think that the boss only has a right to comment on things directly related to work.

        Therefore, she only has the right to comment
        – if the smoke breaks impact OP’s productivity/availability
        – if OP smells of cigarettes and it bothers other people.

        On the other hand, she has no right to comment
        – OP’s smoking being harmful to her health
        – OP’s weight AT ALL.

        It seems all the boss’s comments were from the second group, and therefore inappropriate.

    8. DataGirl*

      This was 20 years ago and in another country, but when I was working my first office job smokers got a 5 minute break every hour to smoke, plus the usual lunch and bathroom breaks. Non-smokers only got lunch and got in trouble if they left their deal for anything other than a quick bathroom trip. That’s not the smokers fault, but it definitely caused a lot of resentment for the non-smokers.

    9. Observer*

      It’s possible that the cigarette smell is very unpleasant for OP’s colleagues, so the manager is trying to curtail it by saying that it’s just out of concern for OP’s wellbeing

      The kindest thing one could say about that is that it’s both stupid and unproductive. If there is a smell that’s bothering people SAY SO.

      Of course, we also know that this is not actually the problem, as the boss has actually told the OP that she wants to make their APPEARANCE “appealing”.

    10. Anon Supervisor*

      I smoked for years and only smoked on my approved break times. Most of my other team members were the same…although I couldn’t say that for some managers who smoked. But, I minded my own business because it didn’t affect me.

  11. Anon (and on and on)*

    A lot of fatphobic criticism comes in the form of people saying they’re concerned about someone’s health, when the reality is they just… hate fat people. Check out the Maintenance Phase podcast episodes “Anti-Fat Bias” and “Is Being Fat Bad For You?” for some great insight into this. The line about want to make you “appealing in appearance” makes me think that that’s what’s going on here, that this isn’t about your health at all. It’s possible that she’s biased against fat people, is bothered by your weight gain for aesthetic reasons, and once she heard about your smoking now has this weird excuse to talk about your “health” in the workplace because culturally we tend to all agree that smoking is bad for you. I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s piggy-backing the gym conversation onto the smoking one. In fact, I think that’s her real purpose for bringing this up at all!

    1. Goose*

      Yep, it’s amazing this only came up once LW was showing weight gain. It’s about appearance and “perceived” health.

    2. Yorick*

      It does seem like this may be the more important aspect than smoking. Sure, OP should consider how their smoking affects work, but smoking may just be a more socially acceptable thing to focus on and then sneak in the fat shaming along with it.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Yeah, that’s my opinion too. Boss doesn’t mind the smoking as long as OP is Acceptably Thin™ while doing it.

    3. Mischa*

      Agreed that the smoking is a very convenient direct path for your boss to make comments about OP’s appearance.

      OP, your body is your own business. Your boss is wildly out of line here. It doesn’t matter if her intentions are ostensibly sincere or if there’s some kind of underlying ulterior motive (e.g., boss hates fat people and now she can Change You For the Better). Alison’s advice is spot on.

      If she has problems with the smell of cigarettes, or if it’s impacting workflows in some other way, then she needs to say so explicitly.

    4. Brightwanderer*

      Coincidentally I was listening to the Maintenance Phase episode about “Supersize Me” just yesterday, and one of the things they made a note of was that there was a bit with a guy basically bemoaning the fact that yeah it’s GREAT that it’s socially acceptable to harrass and belittle smokers now but when oh when would it be socially acceptable to do the same thing to fat people? Which a) HOLLOW LAUGHTER from every fat person ever at the idea that it’s not ‘socially acceptable’ to harrass us about our weight and b) dude, can you HEAR yourself?? “I love bullying people and being able to justify it as concern about their health, wish I could do it more!”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I really need to start listening to this. It’s a mildly triggering topic for me but I do like Mike Hobbs a lot and all the fat folks in my circle recommend it highly.

        1. The OG Sleepless*

          He and Sarah Marshall did a You’re Wrong About episode about the “obesity epidemic” too! Love his take on things. My husband is obese and I’ve had a front row seat to the fat shaming for many years. It’s really horrible.

        2. Brightwanderer*

          Have you read his long piece about obesity and health? He wrote it several years back and it really nails how non-science-based our cultural thinking is.

          They’re generally pretty good at mentioning particularly triggering stuff at the start of each episode as well.

    5. Presea*

      Indeed. If this was really about health, you’d think the boss would understand that harassment and pressure and boundary-crossing is very likely to do the opposite of helping OP in any way, and that applies for both smoking and weight especially since quitting smoking and intentionally losing weight aren’t universally healthy/possible/accessible; OP knows better than their boss what’s realistic for them, what tradeoffs they’re willing to take, what their goals are if they have any, etc.

      Boss is very clearly not coming from a place of compassion and should not be treated as if she is. Document everything, just in case; just because body size isn’t a protected class and smoking may or may not be in your jurisdiction doesn’t mean you can’t start creating documentation. I feel like a good HR department would still want to know about this, and if you are pushed to lawyer up in the future, too much documentation is better than not enough.

      1. Observer*

        <i.f this was really about health, you’d think the boss would understand that harassment and pressure and boundary-crossing is very likely to do the opposite of helping OP in any way,

        From experience, I will tell you that it’s just not true. It *IS* true that this kind of behavior is not helpful, but people often think it IS. It is a really stupid assumption because it really only makes sense if you assume that “putting on weight” HAS to equal “all your brains fell out”. But people really do seem to think that overweight people just “don’t realize.

        Boss is very clearly not coming from a place of compassion

        Despite what I said, in this case, I do agree with you. The comments about making the OP “appealing in appearance” are just gross. And it’s REALLY hard to spin this as a health concern.

        1. Presea*

          I agree with your first point, I mostly just didn’t phrase my own point well. I was being a tad snarky and not literal as a flawed framing to my overall point that Boss’s behavior is very unhelpful.

    6. Goldenrod*

      Agreed. This boss is incredibly out of line and it’s truly mind-blowing that she thinks it’s okay to comment on an employee’s weight. It’s so not okay. No matter what her stated reason is!

    7. Anyfizz*

      Chiming in just to say think you’re probably right. I don’t think the issue has anything to do with productivity based on the mention of attractiveness (EWW) alone.
      At this point, after seeing and reading all about all these inappropriate boundaries people have with fat people, I always shut down people that like talk about other people’s weight. And I come from a culture where this is incredibly common in social settings.

    8. Despachito*

      I do not think it is “hate”, it is rather some sort of skewed superiority feeling (aka “Despite any other problems I might have, at least I am not fat, and that means I am in a way better than you and I am well positioned to give you advice”).

      I have a very good friend who is heavily overweight, and it is already starting to cause her health issues. I would never dream of commenting on her weight, either to her or anyone else. She is of course aware of it, and sometimes talks about it. If she herself starts the conversation, I am not telling her “you are not fat, it is not a problem”, because it IS a problem for her and it is becoming worse and we both know that, but I just follow her lead on this and talk about it only as much as SHE wants me to. If she expressly asks me, I’d help her as much as I am able to, but if she doesn’t, I do not bring the subject up myself.

      I do not feel that it is up to me to manage other people’s lives, and although I love her dearly, I think her health is her own responsibility and not for me to meddle with, unless she EXPRESSLY asks me to. And I would appreciate the same approach from my friends.

      So if it is a big NO-NO for a good friend, i. e. a much closer relationship that that of a boss and an employee, it should be an absolute taboo for the boss.

      1. Anon (and on and on)*

        I would gently recommend that you listen to the Maintenance Phase episode “Is Being Fat Bad For You?” There isn’t good science linking being fat to health problems. Rather, there are likely other factors that lead to BOTH health problems and gaining weight, but not enough science to dig into what these are because we’re so focused on weight itself. There are many, many different reasons that people become and stay fat and we know very little about how this process works in the human body. Instead, you can discuss the potential factors leading to your friends health issues (underlying disease? behaviors like lack of exercise or poor diet? environmental factors?) and leave weight out of the equation entirely.

        1. Despachito*

          Thank you for the reference, I’ll look at it.

          I think some problems are definitely linked to being seriously overweight (knee/joint problems, a certain type of diabetes), and can be significantly improved if the person manages to lose weight.

          However, to be honest, I do not feel qualified to discuss my friend’s (or anyone else’s) weight because I am well aware that I am not an expert and I could do more harm than good.

          If expressly asked, I can share some experience of what worked for me (some time ago I lost a significant chunk of weight and have more or less managed to maintain it since then), but I emphasize that “if expressly asked” and “what worked for ME”, because I think that excessive weight is a very complex problem and although it is definitely possible to lose weight and there are certain common principles that work, every person is different and the specific approach that worked for me does not necessarily have to work for other people. And there are times in people’s lives when weight loss is the last thing they think about. It took me several years to be mentally prepared to shed my portion of weight, and I would consider it very inappropriate if someone urged me to do it before I was prepared.

          I think that people’s weight is a thing to be discussed with their doctor, if at all. And perhaps with the closest family members who are those who care most, and who would probably be affected with their relative’s state of health (if I become so fat that I cannot walk anymore, my family will have to care for my basic needs, and I can see that they would want to avoid it).

          But a boss is neither of those, and therefore should absolutely keep their mouth shut.

  12. Mid*

    I do wonder about how many breaks OP takes, and how long they’re out of the office each day. 2-3 packs a day is a lot of cigarettes, even if the majority are smoked outside of work hours. So, OP, I’d make sure that you aren’t missing an unreasonable amount of time during the day.

    Now, the discussion about your appearance is not at all okay, and your manager is very over the line in telling you to join a gym and improve your appearance. Even if her intentions are kind, that’s absolutely not okay, ever. And she’s talking to your coworkers about you?? That’s….gross. High schoolers have better sense. I would directly tell her that she needs to stop, and start documenting those comments, and if they continue, go to HR.

  13. HugeTractsofLand*

    I agree with Allison’s advice that you’ll need to set boundaries with your mentor. It must be really frustrating and confusing to have someone who’s normally in your corner attack you this way, but it IS an attack. Hopefully calling her out on it and repeating your boundaries will shut this down, but you may need to get more honest and direct: things like “Wow, this conversation feels pretty hostile…and it’s not even about work!” or “These brochures at my desk make me feel uncomfortable at my own desk.” You deserve to feel supported at work, and you deserve a mentor who doesn’t talk to others about “fixing you”(!!!). This woman is only your professional mentor, not your life coach.

    Goo luck, OP!

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, it’s very hard when someone whose mentored you “turns” in this way. You did nothing wrong, OP, and this isn’t for your benefit. None of this is okay- you have the right to not have your work assessed based on your private health situation. Please know that she’s the weird one here and your sense of boundaries is appropriate.

    1. TyphoidMary*

      Oh my god, a Bellwether reference! LITERALLY what I thought of with this letter!

      Covid Cassandra, whoever you are– HELLO!

      1. Schrodinger's Cat*

        Nice to see some other Connie Willis fans! That book is definitely relevant, not to mention laugh-out-loud funny.

  14. Jora Malli*

    I’m not a smoker, but I do have a chronic health problem, so I’ve had these kinds of conversations with bosses in the past and I know how hard it is to get your courage up. The important thing to remember, OP, is that your boss is in charge of your work product, not your body. Your health is not under her jurisdiction. Please don’t feel like you need to base your health decisions on the way your boss wishes your body looked. That’s way outside her lane.

    If you decide for yourself that you’d like to make some changes to your habits and you and your medical team are able to put together a plan that feels right for you, then that’s great. If you decide that now isn’t the right time and you’re going to focus on other things, that’s also great. You’re the person who lives in your body and that makes you the decider here.

    Good luck!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Oh you have a x health issue – have you tried yoga and alkaline water and positive thinking”. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

      1. Pikachu*

        You’re missing essential oils, the fourth horseman of the unsolicited-health-advice-at-work apocalypse.

    2. the cat's ass*

      This is fantastic! “your boss is in charge of your work product, not your body. Your health is not under her juristiction.”

  15. John Smith*

    OP, I’m going to assume you’re not a PT in which case your boss might have a point! Joking aside, I don’t suppose your manager has made a change herself has she? Like giving up smoking herself or has met/dated a non-smoker? I can tell you a lot of ex smokers get very sanctimonious over this.

    In any case, while it may be viewed as nice that someone has a concern for your health, unless she’s also challenging people who are rock climbing, cliff diving, grizzly bear boxing or playing chicken on the motorway, she has absolutely no business whatsoever as your manager to be so intrusive. At most, providing opportunities for people to quit/diet/excercise or whatever is ok, but it’s the employees choice whether they take these on or not.

  16. H.Regalis*

    “Another employee relayed to me that my boss boasted to her about how she’ll ‘fix’ me and make sure I become ‘appealing in appearance’ and not just in ‘substance.'”

    That line just kills me. Who cares whether or not you are good at your job? You better let your boss use you as a living Barbie doll though, because her personal opinion of how you look is obviously way more important. Fuck that shit.

    1. Anonomatopoeia*

      Right? I take some big honking issue with “just” being good in substance. I mean, there are steaming piles of poo all over in this entire story (all of them manager-initiated poo), but I feel like having an employee who is substantively excellent is just much much better all around than having an employee who looks excellent. What the entire goat is going on that someone is like, well I want them to look good, not just BE good. BEING good or appealing or whatever at the job is the point of doing the damn job, and has nothing to do with looking good unless the job is one that is premised on appearance. Honestly.

  17. Not really a Waitress*

    One of my indirect reports hates soft drinks. I am a caffeine addict. When she would come in and see a soft drink on my desk, she would immediately start lecturing me. Drinking water wasn’t even better. Because it was the “”wrong” water.

    One day she came in , saw my soft drink, rolled her eyes and started on me, I finally said in my stern voice, that she could drink what she wanted to drink, and I would drink what I wanted to drink and there would be no further discussion.

    She prickled, but its not work related and its none of her business.

      1. Observer*

        Well, sniff! How do you not know that TAP water is not REAL water? You need water from a spring fed by the Andean Glaciers! /sarc

      2. Jora Malli*

        I used to work with someone who considered herself the office wellness guru, and I was also drinking the wrong water. You see, what I was drinking was the liquid that came out of the sink in the staff kitchen, and she thought I should be drinking expensive electrolyte/mineral/enhanced water from the health food store.

        (She also told me to stop wearing sunscreen because it’s unhealthy, but I was six months post melanoma at the time so I did laugh out loud at that one.)

        1. Rainy*


          What did she think you should be drinking? The water that collected in the dog’s footprints in the yard?

          1. Despachito*

            I’d rather not do that. According to an old fairy-tale, this should turn you into a dog.

            But perhaps it would be worth a shot to drink from the footprints of Miss/Mister Universe.

    1. Pikachu*

      I quit drinking alcohol and stick to diet coke at work functions. People have a LOT to say about all the ways drinking soda is bad for you, but it’s really hard to take seriously from someone with a martini in their hands. Three olives isn’t exactly a food group either, pal… let’s enjoy our vices together in harmony!

      Maybe she was trying to rope you into her pyramid scheme for a $5,000 Kangen water machine

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Three olives isn’t exactly a food group either, pal…

        This made me laugh out loud!

      2. Not really a Waitress*

        When I was 16, my weirdo aunt, was staying with us after another domestic violence incident with her husband. I was getting ready to leave for work (i had a shift at 9 am) She was sitting at the kitchen table, she had just come in from smoking a cigarette, and was drinking whiskey out of a juice glass. She was mad because my dad was a fed and told her she couldn’t bring any illegal substances in his house. She looked at me and told me biting my nails was a disgusting habit and she had something that would make me stop. I rolled my eyes and left.

      3. Sweet 'N Lower*

        Kangen was my first thought when I heard “wrong water.” Don’t you know that normal water will kill you and your family and your dog? /s

    2. All the words*

      Please do tell me how drinking water from plastic bottles is better, oh health conscious co-worker. Tons of plastic waste negatively impacts every living thing on the planet.

  18. Avril Ludgateau*

    Is this a small employer? It makes me wonder if the manager is less concerned about OP but more concerned about health insurance premiums (which can be affected by smokers or high BMI individuals in a way a small employer would “feel” in their bottom line).

    It’s still crossing a line but maybe she got some sort of notice about premium spikes and that is what triggered the sudden “concern”.

    1. Presea*

      If this turns out to be verifyably the case, OP should probably just run. If this is how the boss treats workers who have incredibly common health conditions that might cause relatively small premium bumps, what’s going to happen if OP or one of their coworkers gets cancer or something? What a horrible way to treat human beings!

    2. Observer*

      I’m wondering if the OP is in the US. Their use of the term “packet” is not typical in the US, I think, so it could be that employer insurance costs would not be the issue.

    3. pancakes*

      That wouldn’t be any better. It doesn’t really matter how the boss justifies commenting on the letter writer’s appearance, etc., to themself. Neither does the size of the employer. People in small companies aren’t exempt from behaving decently.

    4. A*

      If that was the case the employer should look into ‘tobacco free’ discounts. Smokers aren’t penalized, but those that attest to being tobacco free get a slight discount on insurance costs. My employer offers $50 off premiums on a monthly basis if you self report as tobacco free (and therefore also waive the rights to any smoke breaks etc.). If the employer isn’t being transparent about the reasons for concern and is not implementing clear policies, that’s on them not the employees.

    5. CatPrance*

      If boss was worried about insurance premium spikes, she’d be better advised to worry about young women getting pregnant and older guys getting heart attacks. Those are quite common, and man, can they jack up your insurance costs.

      1. Observer*

        Oh, please don’t give this over-stepping boss some MORE excuses to get into people’s lives!

        Which goes to the point that it doesn’t matter if insurance rates were the issue (though there is good reason to think not). It’s still waaaay out of line to get into people’s weight, health, etc.

  19. Lacey*

    I think Alison is spot on – if the manager has concerns about how many or how long your breaks are – that’s what she should be addressing.

    I’ve had a lot of coworkers who smoke. Some really didn’t let it detract from their working time in any way.
    On the other end of the spectrum – I had a coworker who was outside so much I often wondered when he did his job. After his manager quit it became apparent that he hadn’t been doing it.

    But that should be the focus. And if she had no idea before, it shouldn’t be an issue.

  20. ZSD*

    This line: make sure I become “appealing in appearance” and not just in “substance.”
    Makes me want to barf. If my manager said that about me, I’d probably cry. OP, you shouldn’t have to put up with someone saying such unkind things about you!

  21. CW*

    Your smoking habits and your weight are none of your boss’s business. Period. She should not be doing any of these things. It is one thing to be concerned. It is totally another to be overstepping, and your boss is really overstepping.

    And even if anyone is concerned, nobody at work should be pointing out your smoking habits. I have had past coworkers and bosses smoke; sometimes I would be outside and chatting while they were smoking. I never made any remarks. Because I don’t think it is right to do so. Your boss needs to realize that.

    1. Despachito*

      It is not anyone’s business (perhaps – PERHAPS – besides the closest family members) to be concerned about other people’s lifestyle habits which are not imminently dangerous to the life of the given person, or annoying to the commenter, and much less to voice their concern.

      I am definitely not interested in people telling me that I should go to bed before midnight and that my Diet Coke is brown poison in disguise.

  22. animaniactoo*

    Hmmm. I wonder how a mix of acknowledgement and back off would go over with her. Something like: “I understand you’re concerned, and why. I’m not saying that it’s great, but right now it’s my choice. When I’m ready to make a different choice, I will. In the meantime, please stop focusing on it or bringing it up and let’s just discuss my work.”

    1. Maybe not*

      Why on earth would OP say “I’m not saying that it’s great.” Maybe OP thinks it is great. Maybe everyone else should jump in the lake instead of commenting on or judging or criticizing another person’s body or perceived health. This is really an obnoxious approach.

    2. Boring Nickname Rachel*

      This would be enabling the boss and suggesting that the topic might be relevant at a future point. And I didn’t get the sense that LW thinks their lifestyle is “not great.” Why would they indulge their boss in this? Alison’s language is already very gentle; LW has no need to cede any further autonomy of their body to their boss.

    3. Pam Poovey*

      That’s conceding too much tbh. “My weight and health are not up for discussion” is plenty.

  23. 404_FoxNotFound*

    Oh yikes is this boss *so* overstepping on so many fronts. I’m very grumpy on your behalf, LW.

    I’d definitely recommend looking at any particular legal protections LW may have before addressing the situation, informally and formally through HR. I’m also in agreement with folks who are advising making sure there’s nothing affecting LW’s actual work product/responsibilities.

    I’ve found it helpful to ask for specific examples or clarification to help me determine how rooted in bias someone’s commentary is, in order to repeat their “advice” back to them “so me doing yoga will make me lose weight will fix my unrelated disability?”, but sometimes the fallout isn’t worth the pain of someone getting very increasingly defensive of their likely underexamined bias the closer something hits home.

    Once LW has confirmed that nothing is violating work rules or negatively affecting their responsibilities, since it sounds like LW is invested in not burning bridges, gently pushing back on the entirely unsolicited advice in soft to less soft terms is probably a good idea. “Thank you, boss. I’ve got it, but if I every need advice on stopping smoking or weight loss, I’ll be sure to reach out to you”, followed by some variant of “I’m good on that front, thank you. There’s no need for you to continue giving me pamphlets as they’ll end up in the recycling” in a friendly tone comes to mind.

  24. Observer*

    Smoking doesn’t impact my productivity, I take little breaks, and the whole reason this became a problem for her was because I offhandly mentioned I smoke two to three packets a day.

    Two thoughts. Firstly, make sure that your productivity REALLY is not taking a hit. Track the amount of time you are actually taking to make sure that it’s not more than you think.

    Also, sometimes the optics of this can be an issue. I haven’t read all of the comments, but I did see a few comments about how all smokers take all these extra breaks that non-smokers don’t get. You want to makes sure that you are not being tarred by that kind of perception, if possible. Even if you can’t change the perception, it’s worth being aware if that’s at play.

    As for the weight issue. . . ugh. The one thing I’d look at is your clothes. You say that you’ve put on weight in the last few months. If you haven’t done so, it would be a good idea to make sure that all of your current work clothes fit you properly. It’s surprisingly easy to continue to wear clothed whose fit changes in less than positive ways because we’ve gotten used to the way it looks, and we don’t realize how it looks. Looking good tends to lower the number of comments people make.

    Not that it would excuse her comments. When she says something maybe you could say something like “I’ve been working on this, and I’ve been advised that it’s best not to discuss this at work. Thanks for caring!” (And maybe drop the “thanks for caring” after the one or two repetitions.) Appeals to authority can be quite useful when you are trying to get someone off your back and you don’t want to tell them that you think that they are out of line.

    1. evens*

      Those are all really good points. It sounds like OP needs to check their optics — including (perceived and actual) productivity, fit of clothes, and perhaps general hygiene. But also, the manager sounds pretty abrasive and just plain rude.

      1. The OG Sleepless*

        Yes, those are good points. And a good reminder to me. I’ve gained a bit of weight over the last couple of years (who knew the pandemic and menopause in the same year might not be good for me?) and I keep stubbornly wearing the same clothes, and I’ve been vaguely aware that they look worse on me than they used to.

        1. SixTigers*

          I found that, in that situation, that the best ideas were to ditch the “button pants,” realize that tunic-length sweaters and vests are your friend, and don’t have any abrupt changes of color at your waistline. Scarves are great — color will raise the focal point up around your face — and make sure you have a good haircut.

      2. Globetrotta*

        Playing into fat tropes like OP must be slovenly and poorly dressed is pretty gross.

        1. Avril Ludgateau*

          Nobody said that, and you’re showing your own biases or insecurities. My weight has fluctuated in adulthood. 20 lbs in the upward direction, and my clothes will still “fit”, technically, but they will do so poorly. And it always takes me longer to notice this than people who look at me. Gently asking “hey, have you maybe outgrown the clothes you are still wearing?” is in no way suggesting that “OP must be slovenly and poorly dressed.” It’s simply offering a consideration.

          To that end, Observer’s was one of the only comments that offered a solution that didn’t require confronting the manager or, importantly, rely on the manager being reasonable and receptive. A manager who – based on this clear overstep of tact, propriety, and respect – clearly isn’t, and would likely respond poorly to any requests to step off and mind her own business. If she responded with a change in behavior, at all.

  25. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I also wonder if the smoke breaks are not more disruptive than OP believes, with 2 or 3 packs per day? What is a “little break” and how often. I was in a position where I had to discuss this issue with a temp at work because his smoke breaks were a problem. The breaks ranged from 20 – 45 minutes… multiple times a day. After the talk, the situation improved, but I have no doubt that he would have continued that way as long as no one said anything about it.

    1. Pam Poovey*

      I also wonder if OP is coming back in stinking of cigarette odor. Even if they aren’t taking much time themselves they could be causing disruption that eats into others’ productivity.

  26. Sparkles McFadden*

    Yes, your manager is overstepping. I’m curious as to how long you’ve worked there. It doesn’t change the situation but I am wondering where this is coming from. Does she now feel justified because it’s multiple packs of cigarettes a day? If the boss had concerns related to smoke breaks or something similar (a coworker complaining about the number of smoke breaks or a client raising concerns of lingering smoke smell), that would be a legitimate thing for a boss to address, but not as a personal “I’m going to fix you” thing.

    At any rate, none of this is appropriate or helpful to you. Use Alison’s scripts to address it and please find a new mentor. Your boss’ judgment is suspect and she’s not a good management role model.

  27. What She Said*

    I got doctors on my behind about what I eat and drink (chronic illness) and I’ve just resorted to ignoring them. There are reasons I can’t follow their specific requests and I have tried to work with dietitians. Now ignoring your boss’s comments may be hard but I would certainly resort to that after you make one comment about her comments being inappropriate. Good luck!

    1. KoiFeeder*

      I’ve had to point out a few times that I am the R’lyeh of medical needs, where dieticians wander hopelessly and lose themselves to madness. I do my best, but right now my primary goal is “not getting septic shock from outraged intestines” and everything else has to get in line behind that.

  28. ecnaseener*

    Truly incredible how many people read that the boss was bragging about making LW “””appealing in appearance””” and STILL bent over backwards to say maybe it’s secretly about a legitimate work problem and somehow not a massive overstep.

    1. AnonAcademic*

      Agreed. I am disappointed in this comment section. I wish people would take OP at their word — it seems pretty obvious that if the boss had no problem with their work until learning about certain non-work-related personal habits, then there is clearly no need for the OP to “just make sure” that her work isn’t being affected.

      The boss has clearly made an overstep and I am sorry the OP is dealing with this.

  29. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Oh I see you’ve encountered a former boss of mine. They were obsessed with getting me ‘healthy’ and this took the form of constantly berating me about my weight (“you’d have fewer problems if you weren’t obese” – WRONG) and anything else I did that they didn’t like.

    And yeah, at the time I was a heavy smoker too.

    My health (honestly doesn’t matter if I suddenly became not fat; my medical problems would remain the same), my home life, what I ate, why I smoked came up again and again. I tried telling them that it was NONE of their business and that I simply wasn’t going to listen to any more judgements about non work matters.

    Sadly, and I hope you fare better!, my then boss got HR to agree with them and start coming after me with weight watchers leaflets etc. first job I ever quit with nothing else to go to.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      They also liked to tell me that no one will find me attractive if I didn’t cut out the swearing/cigs/whatever was making me fat. I’d been married 10 years at that point (now 18)

  30. Critical Rolls*

    Whether LW is taking too many breaks or smells strongly of smoke doesn’t in the least dilute the manager’s drastic overstepping, especially in light of the appearance and weight related comments. LW could be outside smoking half the day and it would still be wrong of the manager to comment on her weight (or anything on the basis of it being a non-work-impacting health issue), never mind the type of concern trolling, invasive, wildly inappropriate stuff manager is doing. LW isn’t a wobbly handrail, nobody should be trying to “fix” her.

    No advice, really, although I concur with going to HR if the manager doesn’t straighten up.

  31. MeepMeep02*

    I’m wondering how much OP talks about her own health at work. She says that the 2-3 packs a day smoking habit is something she mentioned to her boss. The boss is in the wrong here, but I think it’ll be easier to point out just how much in the wrong if the OP does not breach their own professional boundaries either. If weight issues or smoking are completely, totally, off limits as a subject of conversation, it’s a lot easier to shut down any improper encroachments on the subject if they do occur.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Given that this is the first the boss is hearing about the amount OP smokes I wouldn’t assume it’s something they bring up a lot! But I agree that a full moratorium on health topics is the only appropriate boundary with a boss this bananacrackers.

    2. Zweisatz*

      Easily said, when people who want to hassle me about my weight have jumped at comments as simple as me talking about a nice thing I saw on a walk (because aha, apprently I take walks and how long are they and how frequent). A biased person will find any excuse to talk about their obsession.

      So OP, I think you should be free to make whatever normal comment about your life that a thin/non-smoking person gets to make without being hassled. Your boss is in the wrong. However you will likely need to draw strict boundaries around what you’re willing to talk about with your boss – through no fault of your own!

  32. Chickaletta*

    The one thing that OP said that I haven’t seen addressed by Alison or in the comments yet is that their weight gain is recent, within the past few months. If OP isn’t at their normal weight, then I can understand their manager’s concern, in the same way that a manager would be concerned about any new change in their employee. Significant weight gain can be a symptom of other issues, of course. It would have been better for the manager to address it differently however, like by letting OP know that they can talk if something is bothering them, asking them in general how they are doing, and/or giving them EAP resources. But given that the manager was going so far as to hand OP brochures and talk to other employees about it, then yeah, Alison’s advice is spot on for this situation.

    1. LMB*

      No one needs to be “concerned” about another person’s weight, especially not people you work with. This is nothing more than the manager telling the employee she does not find the appearance of her body acceptable. Is this company the Royal Ballet? A wrestling team? If not I see zero reason a boss should EVER mention another person’s body, ever.

      1. Chickaletta*

        Be careful not to get caught up in the “weight” part of the issue. That’s not what this is about. It’s about the employee having a significant change in her life and the manager checking in to see if everything is ok.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Gaining weight is not getting divorced or being diagnosed with cancer. It’s not a “significant change”. It happens for a lot of reasons and it is nothing to be commented on, especially by a manager.

          1. Avril Ludgateau*

            Gaining weight is not getting divorced or being diagnosed with cancer.

            And yet, it can be associated with both, especially when sudden. Any doctor worth their salt will tell you that a sudden change in weight – whether gain or loss – is a point of concern.

            This doesn’t mean the OP manager is in the right but maybe let’s not make broad and frankly dangerous generalizations about these things.

            1. Anonymous Hippo*

              A doctor may have a point of concern. I think the manager needs to mind their own business.

              What if the weight gain is due to something of concern like cancer or divorce? Now my boss is grilling me about it, and maybe I don’t want to share with them, so now I’ve got the added burden of making up some excuse. Just no. If an employee comes to you with an issue and needs some accommodation, sure, jump in and help. You don’t need to be all up in their business to sort things out for them before they’ve asked.

        2. drinking Mello Yello*

          That’s still irrelevant. It’s none of the OP’s manager’s business. At all. Unless their weight gain was Somehow affecting their work output (I can’t even think of how that would be possible), their manager needs to shut her mouth about the OP’s body. The fact that their manager was bragging about how she was going to make the OP “appealing in appearance”? Nah. It’s just your standard fat-hating fatphobia. And even if it was dressed up in a concern trolling “concern for their health and well-being”, that’d still be fatphobic, nosy nonsense. She’s the OP’s manager, not their doctor. That’s just Not Her Business.

        3. Asenath*

          If the change were in my personal life, I don’t want my manager even mentioning that there might be a change. It doesn’t matter whether the manager sees a change is my weight, my personal habits (like the smoking), how I leave work (being picked up by a spouse or leaving on my own) or anything else. I do not need to be checked on by an acquaintance who happens to be my manager. If, however, the change affects my work – I’m working slower, making more mistakes, quarreling with co-workers – sure, my manager has to duty to find out why my work has changed, and if I say that I’m finding life difficult because I just threw my partner out, or I’m having a bad reaction to some medical treatment, she should direct me to any professional resources the employer has available.

        4. Haaay*

          …which is literally none of your business unless 1) employee approaches you with details of something they are struggling with as an FYI, or 2) productivity is impacted in the immediate. Gross.

        5. Observer*

          It’s about the employee having a significant change in her life and the manager checking in to see if everything is ok.

          No it’s not. It is ABSOLUTELY about the boss’ opinion of the OP’s “habits” and appearance. We know this because she has SAID SO.

          1. Despachito*

            “It’s about the employee having a significant change in her life and the manager checking in to see if everything is ok.”

            If it was that, I’d imagine a completely different wording than that used by the boss.

        6. Elsajeni*

          “Checking in to see if everything is ok” by… handing her a pamphlet for a gym and telling other people that she’s not “appealing in appearance”? Like, even at the VERY MOST generous interpretation where the boss’s intentions really are somehow to check in to see if everything is okay and she is just wildly unable to figure out how to do that, her execution is so bad as to completely cancel out whatever good intentions she might have had.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Nope doesn’t matter. If work isn’t being impacted it isn’t the manager’s business. This is a professional relationship.

    3. biobotb*

      I don’t see how it’s the manager’s business to address in any way, whether the weight gain is recent or not.

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I very much doubt that the boss would have told an employee who had lost rather than gained noticeable weight that she needed to regain the weight, either for health reasons or because the boss wanted her to be more attractive.

      Rapid and/or unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of serious medical issues, but it’s not something that leads to acquaintances saying “I’m worried about you, you really need to put that weight back on, here’s a brochure.”

    5. Okay*

      I don’t see how changes in an employee’s health is their boss’s business unless the employee themselves wants to ask for accommodations or whatever (and even then, they only need to know what accommodations are needed).

    6. A*

      No. I’m sorry to be blunt, but that’s a hard no. I’m currently overweight (technically based on BMI chart I hover between high end of overweight and low end of obese), but what my leadership team doesn’t know is that I used to suffer from anorexia. Prior to my ED I had been overweight, so that’s what my body had adapted to. When I started to experience organ failure and was hospitalized I was technically still in the ‘average’ weight range, but because my body had adapted to being overweight it was reacting at a ‘higher’ weight than many might think for such severe symptoms. If my management team mention me weight, regardless of intentions, it would at best lead to my immediate resignation and emotional devastation – at worst a relapse where my life could literally be in danger. In my case there is no justification or manner where this could be brought up in the professional realm where it would be beneficial vs. catastrophic failure level issue. Please, PLEASE, do not assume things are this black & white. If I was struggling with weight gain and out of the blue my management team started recommending EAP, I would not interpret that in a healthy manner. And that’s after a year of inpatient treatment a decade of ‘recovery’. These rivers run deep, and best not to wade in the waters unless you truly know the individual which is rarely the case when it comes to professional relationships.

      1. Zweisatz*

        Congrats on the recovery you were able to reach! May remission be permanent and weight comments zero.

    7. Observer*

      If OP isn’t at their normal weight, then I can understand their manager’s concern, in the same way that a manager would be concerned about any new change in their employee.

      Nope. For one thing, if it were genuine concern at a concerning change, that would have been ONE conversation that went something like “I’m concerned about your recent weight gain. Sometimes that’s a symptom of other issues. I hope you’ve checked that out. Most importantly, is there anything we can do to help?” That’s probably more than is businesslike, but I could understand it, especially if the boss is also genuinely offering to be as helpful as possible.

      But instead, the OP is getting brochures, comments about her habits, and comments (to others, no less!) specifically about “appealing” her APPEARANCE needs to be! There is no way that’s coming out of a place of concern for a change in someone’s behavior or apparent health.

    8. Martin*

      Hard No.
      I don’t need to be interrogated about my health by my employer and I don’t need to disclose my private health information to them.
      If health issues affect my productivity and my manager asks me about the decline I have to address the issue but I don’t have to provide medical details.

    9. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whoa, no! It is not appropriate for a manager to comment on weight gain, period. It’s none of their business, there are a ton of things that could be behind it that would be wildly inappropriate for an employee to feel pressured to share, and no one should need to feel like their manager is assessing their body or weight. That’s really, really violating.

    10. Mehitabel*

      I don’t care if the employee puts on 20 pounds in a single month. It is none of her manager’s business. Period.

      1. Flare*

        I once put on 23 pounds in a single weekend, which was in fact indicative of a brewing crisis that became a serous emergency over the subsequent few days. However, my employer did not do anything crappy, and instead was appropriately supportive of my trip to the doctor to find out what the hell was going on. I suppose — I SUPPOSE — if I had somehow not independently worked out that the fact my skin was splitting from a sudden substantial weight gain that it was not able to tolerate, I might have appreciated a direct comment because I knew them well and it would have been genuinely about “please do not drop dead here at the office or also anywhere else”, but that’s a very, very specific scenario and is along the same line as how even though you would usually never tell someone they look terrible, you probably would tell someone if you thought they were genuinely about to faint and brain themselves on the coffee table. Rest of the time: no.

    11. Pam Poovey*

      Doesn’t matter. The boss does not get to comment on OP’s weight, or anyone else’s. Period.

      (gaining weight can also be a POSITIVE thing FYI)

  33. LMB*

    This is horrific and should be illegal. It is possible that the LW smells like cigarettes and is bothering other employees, or her smoking breaks are impacting them in some way, but if that is the case the manager needs to be direct. The LW should ask directly if her smoking is impacting the business/team in some way and if so offer to find a solution; if not, well then, it’s none of your business. Weight is a different story. Unless you are a ballerina there is no possible way a person’s weight—especially the amount of weight a person can gain in a few months—can possible impact the work. The manager is fatphobic and afraid the LW’s weight and appearance will make the company look bad. The excuse of “I’m just concerned about your health” is absolute BS because (1) gaining some weight does not mean a person is not healthy (2) the manager also says she wants to improve the LW’s appearance—so which is it, health or appearance? (3) she wants her to lose weight and quit smoking at the same time. Oh that will work out well. (4) just none of you business, none of it. Unfortunately antifat bias and fatphobia at work are not illegal so HR probably won’t care, but I think the the LW should go to HR now. I would say imagine how other employees with bodies even less acceptable to this manager are treated, but I doubt she is hiring any fat people in the first place.

  34. Spicy Tuna*

    Wild overstepping on the part of the boss. One of my colleagues is brilliant and dedicated. She also is overweight and tall. She holds her pants closed with safety pins. Her shirts frequently don’t fully cover her midriff. Money is 100% not an issue. NO ONE CARES! She gets the job done. That should be the only criteria unless someone is a model or TV presenter.

    Unrelated side note. I was mentoring a younger employee at work a few years ago. I had mentioned that at my first job, people could smoke at their desks. She looked horrified and said, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were that old”. Hehe

  35. Mehitabel*

    This is way beyond the pale, and in my experience behavior like this only gets shut down when people say the thing directly and, if need be, forcefully. ‘Your constant badgering me about personal matters that are none of your concern is deeply offensive to me. I have tried to nicely encourage you not to do it, but you’re not getting the hint, so now I’m telling you: Stop. Stop nagging and lecturing me. Stop trying to fix me. Stop discussing me with other employees. That is not your job. So just stop.’ And if she doesn’t stop, file a complaint with HR. Stop worrying about not offending her or damaging your relationship with her; she’s clearly not worried about *your* feelings, and your relationship is already pretty toxic.

  36. Fat Smoker*

    I once had a boss who offered to pay me $1000 if I quit smoking. She was also a micromanager who just didn’t like imperfections with her staff. I did not quit smoking. Perhaps there’s a rebellious streak in me.

    There seems to be a lot of debate about how much one individual can feasibly smoke throughout an average day vs. how much a smoker might smoke during the day and how much time is taken up by going outside and having a cigarette. As someone who could easily smoke 30 cigarettes at one point in my life, I can confirm that my smoking during regular business hours totaled 3 cigarettes. One around 11 AM lasting a sum total of 10 minutes (if I had to wait for an elevator), one at lunch time, typically while I went to the local sandwich shop to pick up lunch. And one around 3, lasting also a sum total of 10 minutes. So all in all my smoking took up about 30 minutes of time at most and I usually ate lunch at my desk and worked during it. So everyone arguing that the OP must be using up valuable work time is mistaken. The majority of my smoking was reserved after work hours to decompress from the shenanigans of my job.

    I’m also fat. While I’ve never had a boss encourage me to lose weight, I have had supervisors who are a little too … vocal … about how they’re too fat and need to lose weight. To be clear, we’re talking about someone who might be 10-20 lbs overweight, talking to someone who is 50+ lbs overweight (and obviously so). To counteract and disappear myself from this conversation, I would regularly make soothing noises about how they’re perfectly agreeable and there’s no need to worry, because the alternative would be to join in on this conversation about weight so that I can … feel worse about myself?

    The truth is that both these issues are personal ones. And should be treated as discretely as discussing issues around chronic issues such as diabetes or mental health. You wouldn’t open a conversation just to tell someone that they’re not using their insulin correctly if you had no experience with the illness. Know what you’re talking about, don’t guess. And if you’re guessing, don’t talk.

  37. Ashkela*

    I’ll admit that the way I used to handle ‘concerned’ managers, bosses, coworkers, colleagues, bus drivers, bartenders, service workers, and random people on the street who thought for some reason that they had a single iota of right to comment on my weight was to look at them blankly until they finished their ramble and then just go, “Okay,” and turn and walk away. If I worked with you, you had to start the conversation over. If I was at your place of business, I left.

    And then I had weight loss surgery, lost 160 pounds, and suddenly was definitely still overweight, but I’d react like I thought they were complimenting on my weight loss. And I wouldn’t stop talking until they realized that they weren’t going to embarrass me or change me or shame me. But I also don’t particularly care if I make folx angry for daring to not be the weight they decide I ‘should’ be.

    You never know someone’s medical situation. And it’s none. of. your. business.

  38. SwampWitch85*

    It sounds like she’s got a lot of internalized stuff of her own going on which is hers to deal with and shouldn’t be about you at all. I’ve been in the same position at work where someone else’s internalized phobias and biases materialize as a problem about you, not that them. That’s 1000% inexcusable.

    On the flip side, as the only nonsmoker who worked in a department with four smokers, I felt like I was constantly working by myself with no support from my team. Simple math: 20 cigarettes in a pack, twenty three-minute breaks through the day, that’s an hour of a work day.

    1. Ashkela*

      Except most smokers I know who go through that much in a day aren’t smoking like that. My old roommate was a 2 pack a day smoker. She had one with her morning coffee break, one or two at lunch, and one in her afternoon break. She also had a 45-90 minute commute each way and smoked the entire ride both directions and pretty much nonstop in the evening as she sat out back while playing on her laptop.

      LW didn’t say they smoke 2-3 packs during the work day, just in a day.

    2. A*

      Ok, but that’s specific to those individuals. I was still a ~1 pack a day smoker for the first few years in the work force. I never smoked on the clock / in or near my workplace, nor would I smoke on my commute in as I didn’t want to smell. I smoked on my way home and during the evening. The issue is that you’ll never be aware of the people taking that approach… because that’s the point. Sounds like your employer didn’t have measures in place to control the behavior if it impacted the bottom line (and if it doesn’t, who cares). If it’s an issue, bring it up with your employee so they can implement a break policy and people can choose to utilize those breaks as they see fit.

  39. FionasHuman*

    In Michigan, discrimination on the basis of weight is also illegal; mentioning just in case that would be helpful for the OP.

  40. Phil*

    If the LW is smoking 2 or 3 “packets”, which I assume are fewer than 20, maybe 10? then she’s taking 20 or 30 breaks a day and that’s that’s a problem.

    1. Observer*

      How do you get to that? The OP did not say that they are smoking that many cigarettes during work hours. So, you have no idea of how many breaks they are taking.

      And if that’s what the boss is worried about, she should say so. You know, like a boss.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        And, if the length/number of breaks is an issue, why the heck would the boss talk about the OP’s weight??

    2. Rainy*

      “Packet” is what they call a cigarette pack in e.g. UK and Australia. Where they’re still 20 cigarettes per packet. So…probably not fewer than 20, probably just not US.

  41. raida7*

    Either go to HR, or the next time she brings it up don’t change the subject – clearly state “Smoking and my body’s physical appearance have no bearing on my performance here at work, and you are to stop bringing them up. We are at work, and I am being clear, right now, that I expect our conversations to be about work.”

    and, if you’re me, it ends with
    “I have forwarded this expectation to your manager so they can discuss your unprofessional behaviour in regards to my physical appearance and smoking, which have not impacted my quality of work. I don’t want to bring HR into this, but if you continue it will be clear harassment and I will escalate.” (I’m in Aus, where any repeated unwanted behaviours are ‘harassment’, they don’t need a qualifier like gender race religion disability.)

  42. No Dumb Blonde*

    If something like this happened to me, I’d turn it around on the manager in the form of a perfectly valid and relevant question: “Can you show me in the policy manual (or contract, or whatever you’re operating under) where not smoking or not being overweight is a condition of employment?” If she can’t produce one but continues interfering, you’ll have more ammunition to take to HR.

  43. Lyngend (Canada)*

    As a person who dislikes smoking?
    It’s still none of my business until it interferes with my life/health.
    You boss is in the wrong. So long as your work is getting done and you’re not putting stuff on your coworkers shoulders that shouldn’t be there you’re fine. (had a co-worker who seemed to be always outside smoking. Didn’t care that she was smoking. Cared that if made it harder to do my job)

  44. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Another employee relayed to me that my boss boasted to her about how she’ll “fix” me and make sure I become “appealing in appearance” and not just in “substance.”

    Make sure you mention this part to HR if you have to go that far.

  45. Just wondering*

    Is it ok for a manager to say (once) that the company offers smoking cessation programs?

    Our HR department sends out an information email to everyone about a lunch time weight watchers group. (e.g. Join now for the next 12-week session.) Is that problematic?

    1. Eyes Kiwami*

      If it’s general information directed at all workers inviting them to join, that shouldn’t be a problem.
      Making employees aware of their options and dropping the subject is fine. Targeted or repeated pushing of the issue is the problem.

  46. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    This is precisely why I hate tying “health” to your job here in the U.S.
    Your manager is overstepping. You are not hers to fix. And your job should not be tied to your appearance or health.
    I don’t have much to add beyond the fact that this is very much not her concern.
    And if it helps, I’ve also gained the “ Pandemic Twenty” it seems. :-( So, you’re not alone in that!

  47. Not a smoker, not a hypocrite*

    All the people banging on about how OP MUST be spending SO much time on smoke breaks and neglecting their work and how terrible it is for people to be anything less than 100% productive… I’d LOVE to know how productive you are. Do you really work 100% of the time you’re at your desk? Never take 5 minutes to make a cup of tea? A lunch break that runs 10 minutes over? 5 minutes spent daydreaming. A few minutes here and there to stretch your legs? Seriously, chill out.

    It’s unlikely that this is about productivity, given it’s never been raised before and the way it’s framed. The manager is just supremely terrible.

  48. Koalafied*

    LW, I’m so sorry you’re being put through this. It really sucks when something completely unrelated to your work is messing with your job satisfaction. You shouldn’t have to choose between submitting to this treatment and leaving a job you like and are good at. I’m having a hard time putting myself in your boss’s shoes and understanding how she could possibly not already know what she’s doing is hurtful and wildly inappropriate, but I really hope she’s just somehow clueless and will lay off if you tell her more directly than you have been so far. Good luck.

  49. blink14*

    I had a coworker who smoked, and she truly took about 10-15 smoke breaks a day. So if you needed her, you had to go find her. We work at a university where smoking is not allowed anywhere on campus, but the building we worked in happened to be on the edge of campus, and the lines were kind of blurred on the rule. 90% of the time that she wasn’t in her office, she was around the corner of the building. It was frustrating

    I think many people who smoke are aware of the impact it has on others around them. What they may not realize is how much. As a coworker, that would be my main concern, because it does in fact impact those around you. It is a public epidemic, for both those who smoke (because nicotine is so addictive) and for those that are regularly around second hand smoke. It can even effect your health insurance costs, which if it’s through your employer, becomes a concern for them as well.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      As a former smoker who still enjoys an occasional cigar, I can tell you that every smoker I’ve ever known, including myself, way underestimated the amount of time that their smoke breaks took. I used to work on a very small retail team and the manager smoked 3×4 times a day, which meant that if a customer needed something like a refund or anything that required manager override, half the time they were hanging out for 10 minutes while we waited for her to get back, or we had to go interrupt her.

      1. blink14*

        This makes sense! Especially if it’s just part of your daily routine, a person may not be aware of the time spent or how taking that time out can cause other issues.

  50. Pontiac*

    I used to work with a woman who was always promptly on time. Then she made herself breakfast. She worked out during her lunch break, after which she would make herself lunch to eat at her desk. She spent plenty of time chatting up folks throughout the day. Then she would leave precisely at closing time. Dog help you if you had a question 10 minutes before then. Because she was “packing up.”

    She was also the first person to make a snippy remark or tattle to the manager if someone else arrived 5 minutes late.

    Made me insane, the hypocrisy of it. That’s what I’m hearing from all the “smokers get more breaks” comments. Sure, maybe some take advantage. Just as some non-smokers take extra breaks and/or are a general pain in the arse in other ways. The OP’s manager is out of line, period.

  51. TH*

    So your manager should not be doing this. Period. None of their business and its way out of bounds to be taking like this.
    The only thing I might say if you take frequent smoke breaks people can perceive that as not good, even if your work is being done.
    I took a coffee break one day and my old boss jokingly said something like oh you like those coffee breaks snd I turned around and said not as much as you like smoke breaks….that shut him down pretty quickly from picking on me again.

  52. yala*

    ‘Another employee relayed to me that my boss boasted to her about how she’ll “fix” me and make sure I become “appealing in appearance” ‘


    I’m sorry, did anyone else get some seriously creepy Dr Frankenstein-esque vibes with this phrasing?

    OP is not a bonsai tree or a woodworking project for their boss to snip and sand down to their preference wtf.

    1. Smoking OP*

      Yes, I admit that those words really made my stomach turn. I did not even know how to reply to that.

  53. moonstone*

    Agree with everyone else that if the manager has issues with the OPs performance, she should address the performance issues. Or if she heard complaints from the team of smelling strongly of smoke, she should have mentioned that instead. Manager is so in the wrong here.

  54. Smoking OP*

    Hello, Letter Writer here.
    First of all I wish to thank Alison for publishing my letter and her advice, and also for all the comments.
    I thought I should have added some details to shed light on some concerns expressed by commenters.
    1) I’m a 24 year old man, and I’ve been in this company since 2016. I’m from a European country.
    2) Regarding smoke and breaks, I rarely take more than two smoke breaks per day – I mostly smoke when I’m doing on field work, or when I’m driving from the office to the locations.
    3) Appearance-wise, I take care of myself and always wear fitting clothes and brand ones – although I used to wear suits pre weight gain, now I mostly wear collared shirts and sweater/vest combos, which are perfectly in line with our dress code.
    4) I’ve never had comments or reproaches about my productivity, and my boss never commented negatively on that.
    5) I admit the smoking and overeating took a spike when my father passed away in November 2021 after a one-year battle with cancer. I also admit that my boss sometimes acts more as a friend than a boss – for example, she did come to my father’s funeral and even sat next to me during the service.
    She did something similar when a coworker’s relative lost their life in a car accident.
    Likewise, her suggestions to work out have a precedent – before Covid, her, me and another colleague used to go cycling together in the weekends.
    6) I do think that her overstepping her boundaries is something that me and my colleagues enabled – I know she doesn’t have much of a personal life outside work, because she can and does call me or my colleagues in her office to vent about her going-ons and ask about ours.
    7) For those who wondered, yes – she’s an ex smoker. I remember that the first years I was there, since we had no fire alarms she would open her window and smoke in her office.
    8) She’s become a health buff during Covid. We would see her doing push-ups during our Zoom calls, and that’s also when she quit smoking.

    1. allathian*

      Sounds like your boss is treating you more like a friend than a report.

      Pulling back from that and building a more professional relationship will probably not be easy, although I do hope that you can get her to stop commenting on your smoking and your weight gain.

    2. Just my 4 cents*

      I wonder if you could tell her – I really appreciate your concern for me as a person, not just an employee, and you are right about my smoking and needing to get back into exercise, BUT, I’m just not ready yet. When I’m ready to go all in, I can let you know but for now, it would be most helpful for me if you just wouldn’t mention it.

      Then if she brings it up again, just say – not ready yet. This way you aren’t telling her – just shut up and be my boss, but you are also drawing some boundaries.

  55. Cam*

    I’m trying to decide who is more annoying, smokers or people who leave work multiple times throughout the day to move their car to avoid a parking fine (as many workplaces don’t offer parking) even though the job is literally next to a train station.

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