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The Warehouse Group stubs out smoking

The Warehouse Stationery shop in New Plymouth’s The Valley mall now boasts a totally smokefree team.

That team includes Paul Parker who smoked for 16 years, starting when he was 24. He smoked about 20 roll-your-own cigarettes a day and admits he probably still would if he was allowed to smoke at work.

But, starting on New Year’s Day 2018, The Warehouse Group (TWG) employees cannot smoke tobacco or use e-cigarettes anywhere on the company’s premises. Nor can they smoke in uniform or with any item that identifies them as an employee of the retail giant.

TWG, which includes The Warehouse, Warehouse Stationery, Torpedo 7, Noel Leeming and 1-day.co.nz, has around 12,000 employees who collectively closely resemble New Zealand’s population demographics.

There was already a workplace smoking policy in place aligned with the law, which doesn’t allow smoking in indoor workplaces. However, TWG’s Wellbeing Manager Phillipa Bennetts believed taking it further was one way the company could contribute to the team’s health.

“As a big employer with a significant brand presence, and with our company mantra of ‘Helping New Zealand families flourish’, it was time to think about how smoking affected our team,” she says.

“Through 2015/16 I started talking about us doing more to support the Government’s Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goals. We decided that 1 January 2018 would be the day the whole company would go smokefree. It seemed like a good date, as the New Year is often a strong prompt to try something new, or change behaviour.”

Phillipa says the policy isn’t about telling people to give up smoking, but telling them they may no longer smoke anywhere on TWG’s carparks, grounds, boundary fences, gardens, entrances, steps and company vehicles.

“It’s about reducing our team and customers’ exposure to second-hand smoke, and reducing the likelihood of people starting to smoke. Young people in particular may start smoking when they start work if the people around them smoke We did hope, though, it would prompt some people to give up.”

In short, the policy’s aimed at creating an environment where being smokefree is the norm.

Developing a company-wide smokefree policy

The best workplace policies take time to develop, with regular communications with employees.

Phillipa worked with the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) to ensure the policy terms were sound and aligned to the Government’s Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 objectives.

She kept talking to TWG’s management team and wider team members throughout, working with the internal communications team to develop a communications plan.

“We needed to give people time to get used to the idea, to get the support they needed, and to raise any concerns with us.

“I was always very mindful this shouldn’t seem like a draconian approach. We talked a lot about what ‘going smokefree’ meant, why we were expanding our smokefree policy and what that meant for them.

“We reinforced that the policy didn’t mean they couldn’t smoke during their breaks. They could, so long as they moved off TWG premises and covered up anything that marked them as TWG employees.

“We created an information pack with frequently asked questions sheets and handouts covering all of those messages. We also included a lot of information covering what support is available to help our team members be smokefree.”

To ensure the smokefree message came from the top down, store managers discussed it at meetings, and group CEOs fronted videos to their team members.

Regular postings on TWG’s closed Facebook pages reinforced the smokefree plan. Phillipa says there was some negative responses on the Facebook page, with some team members feeling their right to smoke was being taken away.

“Interestingly, other team members responded, sharing their own or their partner’s quit story, or talking about their parent who passed away because of smoking. It never got very nasty – team members just talked about it with each other and there were lots of positive comments too.”

Supporting team members to stop

Phillipa says an essential part of their communications was emphasising they understood that smoking is an addiction. She says she often talked – and still does – about the quit support available to help people become smokefree, or at least smokefree at work.

To provide that support, Phillipa contacted the country’s Stop Smoking Service providers, which are funded by the Ministry of Health. These organisations can provide free, face-to-face coaching and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in the workplace or wherever their client feels comfortable to meet.

She invited the local services in each region to contact their local stores directly, and ensured each store had their nearest service’s number.

“Our policy includes allowing team members who smoke to access stop smoking services at work, during work time, so they don’t have to give up their own time. Having peer support at work is also really valuable.”

However, if team members want to stop smoking in their own way, perhaps via their GP or Quitline, TWG will reimburse them up to $20 – a year’s worth of NRT prescriptions. Workers can also access confidential help through TWG’s employee assistance programme (EAP).

Motivating stores

The number of people who smoke at each retail site varies, as do the creative ways the stores motivate team members to give up.

In the Manukau The Warehouse store, a group of eight team members became incentivised by measuring their carbon monoxide levels each week. The Warehouse in Greymouth encourages its employees – and customers – to stop smoking and invest their savings into TWG’s Christmas Club.

“This initiative gives team members and customers an easy way to invest their savings and see very tangible benefits at a time we all need extra funds,” says Phillipa.

Also, at the company’s Store Support Office in Auckland, a man who smoked the whole 23 years he’s worked at TWG has given up, reporting the policy was the nudge he needed.

Making reducing tobacco use a business priority

While Phillipa says TWG management didn’t initially see going totally smokefree as a business priority, everyone at the top level is very supportive now.

“Each organisation needs to decide for themselves if this is something they want to put effort into, among everything else it takes to run a business,” she says.

“But it’s clear that smoking tobacco is a huge cost to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders. To me, businesses can contribute to improving people’s health by saying, ‘No smoking at work’.”

Back at New Plymouth’s Warehouse Stationery, Paul Parker is on board with that. Late last year he had life-saving surgery on his abdomen, just one month after he stopped smoking. The surgeon told him his decision to quit made a big difference to the surgery and his recovery.

He says not being able to smoke at work made it easier to give up. “I wasn’t thinking about smoking anymore. It got to the point where I was having only a couple of smokes at night, then I just gave that up too.”

For more information about how The Warehouse Group went smokefree across all its sites, please email Phillipa.

Also, watch this short video about how the smokefree policy is working at The Warehouse in Lower Hutt.

What can you do to help your staff go smokefree? 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.

Photo caption above: From left, Julie-Anne Wilson, Emily Vanner and Paul Parker have all given up smoking, with the support of non-smoking team member Kaye Roberts, right.


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