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Smokefree move fuels workplace culture change

When challenged to work on an area where change would benefit her team and the business, Tania Stewart knew smoking was a good place to start.

“We were at a Z Energy leadership course in mid-2015 and there was a lot of talk about smokefree workplaces,” says the‘Team Manager, People for Jefkar, a company that runs a cluster of six Z Energy service stations in Christchurch and North Canterbury.

“Smoking among our workforce is about 25%, which is a lot lower than it would have been 10 years ago but higher than the national rate of 16%. So we decided to focus on making our retail sites smokefree.”

Smoking was discouraged at Jefkar’s sites, but some employees still did – obviously well away from the forecourt and fuel tanks. “But there’s a difference between saying ‘we don’t want smoking on site’, and ‘there is to be no smoking on site’,” Tania says.

“So people would smoke in hiding. Maybe they would do it on the night shifts, or in places they couldn’t be seen. If we can’t see our staff, we can’t keep them safe. And some sites might only have one or two people on, so if one goes away to smoke it leaves the other staff member and the site vulnerable.”

Tania says that created an air of secrecy and dishonesty as they didn’t want management to know. “It also created stigma because staff who smoked took more breaks, which annoyed non-smoking staff. We wanted to eliminate all this and protect our people – their health, as well as their safety.”

Over the next year Tania kept developing and discussing the smokefree plan with the team. “If we’d said, ‘Right, tomorrow you have to stop smoking at work’, we would have all failed. First we had to recreate our current culture into a culture where not smoking was normal. And recreating culture is hard.”

As her first steps towards changing the culture, Tania developed a training module unveiling the smokefree plan to employees. It covered what the policy means, why it’s important, how it will be implemented, and asked for feedback.

“Opinions then ranged from ‘that would be great – it’s not fair they pop out for a smoke’, to our long-term smokers saying, ‘you can’t tell me not to smoke’. We spent a lot of time and energy telling people we aren’t telling them they can’t smoke – just that they can’t smoke anywhere on our sites or during work hours,” she says.

To answer the concern that Jefkar was “taking away their right to smoke”, Tania gathered a cross-section of staff together to talk through the issues. “People are passionate and opinionated, and everybody’s view is right for them. We had to create a space where we could start understanding each other’s point of view. It was quite a long process.”

Tania knew her trickiest groups would be the long-term smokers and the young smokers who had just started. “I couldn’t just tell them to stop – especially as a non-smoker. I had to show them I understand it’s really, really hard to quit and I know challenges can mean their good smokefree work goes out the window for a while.

“Keeping up communication during those times is key. You have to know what’s going on with people and they have to feel they can talk to you. I emphasised that a lot – to come and talk to me if you need help.”

And when they talk, providing support is vital. “In terms of stop smoking support, we said we can create individualised graduated plans to help them. We can provide them with access to stop smoking coaches at our local stop smoking service, and they can also call Z Energy’s employee assistance programme,” Tania says.

“But surprisingly, most quit or cut down on their own, or went to their doctor for nicotine replacement therapy with us reimbursing the cost. They also had heaps of encouragement from non-smoking team members.”

In mid-2016 Jekfar’s six workplaces became officially smokefree. Tania Stewart says it’s absolutely been worth the effort.

“Several staff have stopped smoking completely, while others have cut down their daily smoking through not being able to smoke at work. My longest-term smoker was really against this process, however recently she said she used to smoke 10 cigarettes at work each day but now has one before she comes to work. That’s it for her day.

“It’s brought us to a really good space with our crew. They now hold each other to a higher standard – about smoking, but also other behaviours they might have let slide before. We have created an open, honest smokefree culture where people feel valued and listened to. The benefits of that are huge.”

For more information about how Jefkar went smokefree, email Tania.

Free stop smoking support is available via 16 local stop smoking services offering free face-to-face multi-sessional support, plus free nicotine replacement therapy – and they can visit your workplace.

May 31 is World Smokefree Day. See www.worldsmokefreeday.org.nz for more.

 

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