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Smokers Get Lower Job Ratings, Study Finds

January 06, 1998|SHERWOOD ROSS | Sherwood Ross is a freelance writer who covers workplace issues for Reuters

People who smoke at work are likely to be marked down on job performance because of it, reducing both "the probability of their promotion" and their income, a noted organizational behavior expert said.

"Employees who smoke are rated lower on key performance measures by their own leaders than those who do not smoke," said Ron Gilbert, a management professor at Florida International University in North Miami.

Since 1989, Gilbert has studied the performances of thousands of supervisory and nonsupervisory workers in both civilian and military organizations.

"Because promotions depend on one's job performance records," he said, "those who smoke are less likely to be promoted than those who do not."

Smokers' lower ratings may result from a combination of actual poorer job performance and a growing anti-smoking sentiment.

"The bias against smoking has now evolved into 'smokerism,' wherein leaders and employees who smoke are treated with less respect than those who do not," he said.

In addition to poorer overall job performance, Gilbert found that smokers as a group were rated lower on dependability, work relations and comportment.

As supervisors, smokers were rated lower in a number of areas, including goal achievement, industriousness, dependability, interpersonal relations, teamwork, candor, communications and personal character, the FIU professor said.

Survey results from a large manufacturing company in Michigan, an Air Force base in California and a naval facility in Florida showed that smokers were rated lower on job appraisals by both smokers and nonsmokers.

"While prejudice toward smokers may explain much of the difference in ratings, it did not explain all of it," Gilbert said. "For when actual attendance records of smokers were compared with those of nonsmokers, the smokers were found to be less dependable.

"More attention needs to be placed on how organizations are treating smokers," Gilbert said, "because [smokerism] may be fostering unfair bias toward those addicted to tobacco."

Gilbert attributes some of the problem to workplace prohibitions on smoking. "Since [employees] can't smoke, they're going through withdrawal, which may make them edgy and nervous until they have another cigarette.

"Workers are forced to leave their work areas to smoke," he added, "where they congregate with other smokers and are observed together--increasing our stigma toward them."

"This, combined with their actual absence from the work sites heightens smokerism. Can you imagine if we took any other socially biased group and had them standing together so people could see them? It would be seen as an unfair practice, and that would not be tolerated."

"Personnel directors," Gilbert said, "may need to address the phenomenon of smokerism and the effects of anti-smoking bias, just as age, race and gender have been identified as 'isms' in the workplace where personal bias may negate fairness of treatment."

Gilbert noted that "the further you go up [the organizational ladder] the less likely you will find people who smoke." Executives reason that "people who smoke are not taking care of themselves and are probably involved in some self-destructive behavior," he said.

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