Companies Are Using Bonus Cash and Vacation Days to Encourage Employees Not to Smoke /

Non-smokers have long lamented the fact that they get fewer work breaks than their colleagues who step out several times a day for a cigarette. Resentment starts to build, and that can be bad for company morale—and business. Faced with this problem, one Japanese company thinks it has found a solution that will make non-smokers happy while gently nudging smokers to consider quitting.

As The Telegraph reported last year, the Tokyo-based marketing firm Piala Inc. offered non-smokers six extra paid vacation days to make up for the daily downtime they're been missing out on, which works out to be about 15 minutes per smoke break. The policy was introduced after a non-smoking employee added a complaint about smoke breaks into the company's suggestion box.

"I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion," Piala CEO Takao Asuka told Kyodo News, explaining how he hoped the revamped vacation policy might serve as an incentive for smokers to give up tobacco. "At the time, at least four smokers reportedly nixed their nicotine habit as a result of the policy."

A few companies in the U.S. have enacted similar policies to encourage smokers to quit. In 2005, the General Electric Corporation volunteered to participate in a study that aimed to determine the extent to which financial incentives help people quit smoking. GE gave one group of smoking employees a list of smoking cessation resources and told them they could receive up to $750 for quitting, while a control group received the same resources but no offer of a payout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the group that was offered hard cash ended up breaking their smoking habit at three times the rate of the control group.

Similarly, in 2015 The Washington Post reported that the Nuclear Energy Institute told non-smoking employees who were physically fit that $500 would be taken off their annual health insurance premium. Policies like these can be beneficial to employers, too. According to the American Lung Association, companies can save nearly $6000 per year for every employee who gives up smoking. It also recommends that employers offer health insurance plans that include a tobacco cessation benefit, which cover all treatments, medications, and at least four counseling sessions related to quitting smoking.

Whether it's improved benefits or cash rewards, companies are getting creative when it comes to promoting healthy habits—and the trend is likely to continue as more and more companies start to offer wellness programs with financial incentives.