Smoking Fires Up Office Heat, Sales & Marketing Management

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, SALESPEOPLE CAN GET FIRED— or not hired in the first place. That's the opinion of Stephen Viscusi, president of the Viscusi Group, a recruiting firm based in New York, and host of nationally syndicated radio program Career Talk. 

Viscusi says that smoking in the workplace is a ubiquitous on-air topic. With smoking restrictions now a reality of life, issues of productivity, health, and stress levels are a major concern for sales managers. "Telemarketing and sales are high-stress jobs that include a large number of smokers," Viscusi says. While it's unlikely smokers are fired for their habit, he adds, it may be the "icing on the cake" if other deficiencies exist. 
Smokers place a drain on productivity via missed workdays, according to the Clinton Administration, with health care costs for smoking-related illnesses exceeding $50 billion in 1993. The White House says its proposed workplace smoking ban will save companies $8.4 billion per year in health costs (those figures are disputed by smoking rights groups. 
An informal survey of sales and marketing managers indicates many are concerned with the time salespeople spend away from their desks to take smoke breaks. Kathleen Ratcliffe, director of marketing for the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association, says her office had a designated smoking room, but most salespeople chose to take an elevator down 12 floors to go outside and light up anyway. " If they're in a smoking room, we can reach them if the phone rings," says Ratcliffe. (Maryland recently put in place a statewide ban on workplace smoking.) When Pauline Hruby was a district sales manager with the Erie Insurance Group, she says that when people exited the building, "That was truly time lost." She adds that when people return from a smoke break, they're often "not ready to pick up where they left off." 
Lydia Patterson, director of sales for Hancock Information Group in Longwood, Florida, disagrees. She takes a cigarette break before and after lunch. "I like to get outside. It helps relieve work-related stress." Adds Tobacco Growers' Information Committee spokesperson Lisa Eddington: "All we ask is smokers not be treated like second-class citizens." 
Though he wouldn't classify smokers as second-class, Viscusi says cliques emerge. "Smokers ten to be ostracized," he says. "Then they get very defensive about their rights. I think more and more if a boss has a decision between two equally competent job candidates, he'll choose the nonsmoker." To help ease the situation many companies now offer programs to help kick the habit, stuck as SmokeEnders, or the American Cancer Society's FreshStart.