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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?


Join The Conversation
kythera kythera 8 years
Spectra, I agree. Our policy at work is 2 cigarettes per 8 hour shift. Since only three of us smoke, there has never been a problem. There are about 30 employees at my job.
kythera kythera 8 years
I have that problem, but backwards. Most of my coworkers do not smoke, and there are only three of us that do (one of them being a manager). Thankfully, the other manager doesn't have a problem with us, but I feel something from the rest of the coworkers, and I kind of resent that. Although, the few times I've tried to quit, my coworkers were very very supportive.
Symphonee Symphonee 8 years
Never been an issue at my current job. most of my co workers had no idea that I smoked until after a few weeks. I have seen this happen and I tend to steer away from this just because if you take notice, then slowly but surely other higher ups are going to be taking notice as well. They give smokers a bad rap. skigurl- the same thing used to happen at a previous job of mine. The group of us who smoked eventually was prohibited from taking smoke breaks at the same time.
skigurl skigurl 8 years
i agree that just because someone is addicted to smoking doesnt mean they should be allowed to screw the pooch for upwards of 2-3 total hours per day this was an issue in our office at one time. the nonsmokers would go out on nice days just to stand with the smokers and chat (thinking that it should be allowed, if one person can take a break why cant everyone) and they got in trouble becuase they "aren't real smokers" and told to get back to work so it would have been in my best interest to take up smoking at that point...ridiculous
Spectra Spectra 8 years
In our department, only one woman I work with smokes and company policy prohibits frequent smoke breaks. Which is completely fair, IMHO. Most smokers can live for 2 1/2-3 hours without a cigarette...smoke one before you start work, smoke one on your SCHEDULED breaks and smoke one or two at lunch. I don't think any smoker really NEEDS more smoke breaks than that, but I've worked places where lots of people smoke and they were allowed to take as many smoke breaks as they wanted. It was really unfair for the nonsmokers because we weren't allowed any extra breaks for say, a cup of coffee or something.
muchacha muchacha 8 years
I recommend you follow Savvy's advice and do a personal inventory, and yet, I'd like to point out that smoking is NOT a habit, it's an addiction; a chronic, relapsing condition. There are different groups out there that target smoking in the workplace and offer ideas on how to go about organizing a system-wide support program for smoking cessation in the workplace. Here's one:
Chouette4u Chouette4u 8 years
Take up smoking and then try to convince the other people to quit with you and become "Patch Sisters"!
fleurfairy fleurfairy 8 years
This same thing happens in my office. The smokers take about ten 20 minute smoke breaks a day which adds up to how much time per day of them doing nothing? Whenever anyone passes by them, their conversation stops making it seem like they are talking about co-workers behind their back. It's obnoxious.
juliefischer juliefischer 8 years
Yes, it was a Friends episode! I was thinking about that too when I read this.
runningesq runningesq 8 years
Wasn't this a Friends episode?
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