I opened my presentation at KellyOCG’s #TSS event in Dublin with a comment that seemed to hit home with the 60 or so HR folk in the room. My comment centered around being a smoker. I’ve smoked on and off since I was young. It is not something I’m massively proud of, and I’m constantly trying to give up. The point of talking about this is not a bearing of the soul about being a smoker, or another public declaration of giving up. I tried that for Stoptober, lasted about 3 days. I will try again.

My point is that in all the jobs I ever had, it was never an issue to have a smoke break. I was often joined by non-smokers because the smokers room was the one place people from different departments actually talked, and was the place where you went when you really wanted to know what was going on. Not many people smoke anymore, which is why some companies have tried to replace the smoke room with refreshment areas where people can hang out, talk, eat and have an accidental engagement. The same accidental engagement that used to go on in the smoking area. The place to find out what is really going on.

The opening to the presentation was not about the engagement, but that smoke breaks were seen as acceptable and reasonable in most companies, provided they are not abused. Contrast this with the attitude of “Facebook breaks” or social media breaks. Times in the day when employees can just check in, catch up, respond to personal messages, things like that. Mostly this is frowned upon as unproductive time wasting, nothing to do with work. A distraction, and those social media people can’t be trusted to do their work. I remember the same reaction when we first got e-mail and first got the internet. There needed to be rules and policies because people couldn’t be trusted, at least that was the message. All along though, I’ve always been allowed cigarette breaks provided I got the work done and didn’t abuse them. I was trusted to be sensible. I only ever smoked in down time, or as a “reward” when I finished a job or met a deadline. When I was busy with things to do, I didn’t smoke.

I’ve asked lots of HR professionals recently if they still allow smoke breaks in the day. The answer is always the same, with the exception of production environments the answer has always been yes, within reason. When I’ve asked about Facebook break question, the answer has been the opposite. Only a handful have said yes. Most just don’t allow personal social media time, and some even use tools to monitor it. Is Facebook really more of a time suck than smoking?

My thought is that if you are going to recruit socially then you are going to recruit social people. A grown up attitude and approach to personal social time shows trust. It might make a difference to the people you attract. It never ceases to amaze me how many companies only allow Facebook in recruiting, hiring from the channel then banning it on arrival. A bit hypocritical? Lets just trust everyone to be a grown up with open Facebook breaks and access, because when you trust people they rarely disappoint. Why is smoking acceptable but social isn’t?

Bill