February 22, 2011

What Advisory Firms Can Learn From Their Smokin’ Employees

 

Lately, I’ve been conducting an extensive analysis of the advisory practices that I work with; looking for trends and correlations between various management strategies, employee behaviors and the ultimate success of the firms that employ people. One trend recently jumped out at me even though I wasn’t looking for it: Literally, all the top employees in my client firms are smokers. Not 80%, or 90%, but all of them. And I think I’ve figured out why that is.

Now don’t get me wrong here: I’m not suggesting that employees start smoking to become more productive, nor that owner/advisors target smokers in their recruiting.  That would be dumb. In fact, recent studies by the Dept. of the Navy show smokers tend to be less healthy than their non-smoking peers, and consequently, miss a lot more work. So I don’t believe that my smokers are better workers because they smoke.

But I do think that their productivity is related to their smoking, indirectly. My belief is that smokers are more productive because they take more breaks, and thank goodness for those “PC” rules against smoking indoors which means employees actually have to leave the office to do it. Those short hiatuses from the work environment enable smokers to reset their minds, put things into perspective, and then to get back to work with more focus and more enthusiasm.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in my belief that frequent breaks improve productivity. In fact, there’s a growing body of research which shows just that. In one recent study published in the journal Cognition, University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras found that even brief breaks can improve focus on much longer tasks. According to Dr. Lleras, the brain is built to detect and respond to change, so prolonged attention to a single task will naturally result in decreasing performance. “You start performing poorly on a task because you’ve stopped paying attention to it,” he says. “Our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, it’s best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Mental breaks will actually help you stay focused.”

That doesn’t mean that you and your employees should take up smoking; in fact please don’t. But it would probably do your whole firm some good to join your smokers on their breaks every couple of hours or so.  Or better yet, help your smokers quit smoking and then build a culture that encourages employees to take healthy breaks throughout their day.

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