Smoking and Weight: The Effect on Employment

by Michael Haberman on November 28, 2007 · 0 comments


Two other blogs caught my eye this week. One dealt with economic impact of weight on earnings and the other the lifetime cost of a pack of cigarettes. The first was from Freakonomics and was titled The Wage Effect of Fat. This blog discussed a study on obesity and the effect on hourly earnings, with the conclusion being that people with lower levels of body fat, thus higher levels of fat free mass, had higher hourly earnings. This held true across sex and race. They concluded this might be related to productivity. I think this can be extended to several issues. I think people who are percieved as being fat have fewer job opportunities and job opportunities that have lower earnings potentials. I know many employers are hesitant to hire overweight people, especially those that are very overweight, for a number of reasons. These may include the effect they may have on insurance costs, the effect on productivity, and the perceptions customers may have of the employee and thus the company. Once they are hired I think weight may have an effect on productivity in the long-term, tied to the long-term effect of weight on health. It doesn’t make any difference how productive you are in the office, if you are not there.

The second article came from Kris Dunn’s The HR Capitalist blog and dealt with his discussion on smoking and his thoughts on tring to stop smoking at his company, Smoking Discrimination- Truth or Fiction for HR Departments? He referenced an article that discussed the lifetime cost of a pack of cigarettes, which for men is $222 per pack. So this gets into the discussion of what is the cost of a pack of cigarettes to the company? What is the cost of lost productivity due to smoke breaks, poor health, absenteeism. And what is the effect today on the earnings potential for the smoker. In some states, for example in my home state of Georgia, you can refuse to hire someone on the basis that they smoke. Not just at work, but smoke at all. Thus smokers are running into the same issues as someone obese. Fewer potential job opportunities and job opportunities that have less economic potential. Kris Dunn was pondering putting in a smoking cessation program at some point, but not now, and he pondered if he was doing anyone a favor by waiting.

My answer to that question is “NO”. No favors done to the employee or to the company. If you are dealing with a similar issue in your company now might be a good time to think of instituting a wellness program. Tie it to the new year and your employees making the traditional resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, etc. Help them out. Resolve to be a healthier company for their benefit and for the benefit of the company.

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