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How to Handle a Smokers Clique at Work

Ask Savvy: Smokers' Clique at Work

Dear Savvy,

Lately I've been feeling frustrated about something at work and I would like your opinion.

The smoker vs. non-smokers ratio in my office is about half and half. I understand that every company will have a group of smokers that hang out together and may become friends. The problem here is that the two managers are heavy smokers and go out for breaks every hour. There is a girl on the team that also smokes and has become their buddy and favorite. I feel frustrated because the manager has clearly showed preferences in work projects in multiple occasions. Also, when they come back from their mini-break, something about work would have been discussed and the group wouldn't bother to share.

Please do understand that I'm not jealous of the smoker co-worker. It's just that I don't feel like the non-smokers here are being treated fairly. It's not an easy topic to bring up to the manager and I'm not willing to sacrifice my health to join them.

To see my answer,


The issue here isn't that a group shares inside jokes and a smoking habit, it's that both of your managers are part of it and their behavior is negatively affecting your work experience. Preferential treatment based on personal relationships is irresponsible and possibly harmful to your company, but before we make heavy accusations, I want you to step back for a moment and put yourself in your managers' shoes.

Recall the projects where you weren't given a role that you would have preferred. Is there another reason why your co-worker was given a particular task? Were you and your co-worker assigned to specific roles because of your skill strengths, or was it blatant favoritism? If the answer isn't clear to you, it might help to reach out to another member of your team (if there is one) to see if they've been feeling slighted by the smokers' clique, too. Talking to them could either validate your own feelings or make you question them.

Instead of approaching the managers about the clique issue, request a meeting with them to get feedback on your performance. Bring up one or two occasions when you weren't assigned a task that you would have liked to take on, and explain why you would be good at those types of duties in future projects. Pointing out how particular projects speak to your strengths makes it difficult for them to reason about withholding them from you going forward.

Have any of you ever faced a similar situation at work?


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