Phoenix-based moving company U-Haul recently announced that it would cease hiring smokers and nicotine users in 21 states beginning February 1. In states where testing is allowed, applicants must submit to nicotine screenings to be considered. The policy will not affect users hired prior to that date, nor will it be enforced in the remaining 29 states and the District of Columbia where “smoker protection” laws prevent nicotine-free policies. Nonetheless, it is a bold and creative strategy to deal with a major health problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable disease and death for Americans. While cigarette smoking has steadily declined for decades, it has recently hit a floor. Instead, tobacco use has become more insidious as stricter regulations and public stigma keep users in the shadows. On top of this, vaping has grown rapidly.
U-Haul already offers tobacco cessation assistance for employees participating in their wellness program. This new hiring policy shows that the moving and storage rental company is aware that serious steps must be taken against such a highly addictive substance. Even though this will not affect all of the company’s workers, it will likely create a shift in the workspace culture and mentality that further motivates users to prioritize their health and wellness. As an added bonus, it may even reduce the amount of secondhand smoke that fellow employees are exposed to during lunch breaks or other after-work social gatherings.
Depending on how many smokers U-Haul was previously hiring, the company also stands to see significant gains in productivity. Lower healthcare costs accompany a healthier workforce, and these employees are statistically more likely to take fewer days off and perform higher quality work.
Motivating Employees To Quit
Including a tobacco cessation program is a great wellness benefit. However, in order to take advantage of that, an employee has to want to quit—and even if they want to quit, chances are they won’t be successful. The CDC estimates that, while 70% of smokers want to quit, only 6% actually do.
Employers should consider creative strategies to inspire and encourage tobacco users to quit. Smoking cessation programs that reward employees who abstain from tobacco use can be extremely motivating, using incentives such as gift cards, prizes, or even an extra vacation day. For workers who do not use tobacco, companies can also offer lower health insurance premiums or other discounts.
Like the hiring policy going into place at U-Haul, many legal considerations come along with nicotine screening. Instead of a medical exam to test for nicotine use, some companies allow employees to self-report and sign an affidavit on whether or not they are users. While this opens up an opportunity for dishonesty, the worker can still face consequences if it is discovered they lied.
Companies should also keep expectations realistic. Smokers who attempt to quit will most likely need to go through a tobacco cessation program multiple times. Even the most successful programs, have quit rates well below 50%. Repeated failures can be extremely disheartening. Encourage managers to be supportive and understanding about the mental and emotional drain this might take on workers. A positive social environment can be the difference that pushes an employee to persevere.