Have you ever taken a smoke break just to get out of the office? At Tokyo-based marketing firm Piala Inc., you wouldn't need to. Following a suggestion from one of their staff, the company gives people who don't smoke extra time off to compensate for the time other employees spend away from their desks to smoke every day. On top of balancing out the playing field, so to speak, the company has said it hopes the policy will encourage workers to quit smoking. In a country where nearly 20 percent of the population smokes, that's a tall order — but honestly, is there any better incentive than an entire extra week of paid vacation? That's a rhetorical question, obviously. I don't know about you, but there's not much I wouldn't do for an extra week off.
According to the Telegraph, Piala Inc., introduced the initiative in September after nonsmoking staff members complained they worked more than their colleagues who smoke. The firm's office is located on the 29th floor of a building in Tokyo's Ebisu district, where employees had to trek all the way to the basement any time they wanted a cigarette. Needless to say, this took a bit longer than any other break, with each smoke break lasting about 15 minutes. Nonsmoking employees were less than enthused about this.
Eventually, someone put a note in the suggestion box complaining about the time off smokers took each day. A spokesperson for the company, Hirotaka Matsushima, told the Telegraph that the CEO actually agreed with the comment. In September, Piala Inc., announced the addition of six more paid holidays for any non-smoking employee.
Since September, 30 of the 120 employees have taken advantage of the new policy — including some former smokers. Four employees have decided to quit smoking so they can get the time off. According to the Independent, that's exactly what CEO Takao Asuka intended. In addition to being more fair to nonsmoking staff, the policy is meant to encourage smoking employees to quit without punishing them. "I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion," Asuka told Kyto News.
Chances are the company's employees could use a vacation anyway. Japanese work culture is famously intense, with many workers clocking in overtime every week. According to a survey conducted by Expedia, more than half of Japanese workers are unsure of how much annual leave they are allowed to take each year, and 18 percent say they feel guilty for taking paid leave, often citing a lack of staff.
In fact, overwork is such a widespread issue that a word has developed to describe sudden death (usually by suicide or stroke) linked to it: karoshi. The term first emerged in the '80s, and several high profile cases have made international headlines since then. One of the most recent is the death of Miwa Sado, a broadcast journalist who died in her home at the age of 31 in 2013. In early October, her former employer, broadcast network NHK, announced that labor officials had determined that Sado's cause of death was overwork.
As far as smoking goes, Piala Inc. isn't alone in encouraging its employees to kick the habit. Numerous firms have introduced smoking bans during work hours, some of which offer incentives like subsidies. Toyko governor Yuriko Koike has also announced that she plans to push for legislation banning smoking in public places in an effort to improve the city's air quality.
If the success of Piala Inc.'s initiative is any indication, one of the best ways to get people to quit smoking is with the promise of time off. We'll have to wait and see if other employers take note.