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I recently started a new job and my boss is a smoker, so she frequently has smoke breaks together with my other colleagues who are also smokers. During these smoke breaks, they often discuss important information and as a non-smoker, I feel that I'm missing out. I tried to join them for a few of the smoke breaks in order to understand more but I found the smoke intolerable. What can I do to get into the insider group without subjecting myself to the second hand smoke?

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    This is a great question. As a reformed smoker I feel the loss of the bonding we used to get on smoke breaks. I have yet to find any way to effectively reproduce that comraderie. Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 15:53
  • As someone who (a while back) started smoking again, after giving up for nearly a year, to deal with a manager who needed subtle managing, I look forward to any answers to this.
    – pdr
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 16:17
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    Inspired by a TV Show? :-) More seriously, I did have a job where this happened. Fortunately, my current workplace isn't so riddled with managers who smoke, but instead it's lunch - I'm usually not invited, or if I am, it is usually to a place where my dietary restrictions can't be met.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 18:40
  • If it is day to day work stuff you need, get the manager to send it via email/wiki/etc. This way it is documented and there is no misinterpretation by second hand knowledge. Commented May 1, 2013 at 8:41
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    @Kaz - While that is an interesting suggestion I think I would prefer to die from suffocation from the alergic reaction to the second hand smoke that eat wheat germ yogurt :) Commented May 1, 2013 at 12:52

4 Answers 4

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I've actually seen things like this mentioned in association with diversity topics. Not that smoking is a protected characteristic - but that you can't underrate the subtle influences of a particular lifestyle choice, health choice or other pattern. Access to the boss should be available to everyone - but small choices like this can deny opportunities.

How much second hand smoke you're willing to take in is a question that I don't think can be answered here... but here's some ideas somewhere between your two solutions:

  • Make others aware of the situation in a manner that indicates that this is important to you, but also that it's not a crisis. One way is by joking - which I have done successfully with smokers who I knew well calling it something like the Cancer Conclave and suggesting that I should have Full Lung Capacity veto power on anything brought before the conclave. Joking has two major risks, though - it may not be seen as important (because it's clearly funny), or it can be taken wrong. Thus why I have only done it in situations where I knew the other parties well, and knew that the joke would be taken as a friendly warning shot.

  • Pull the boss aside and call him on it. He's not taking a "smoke break", he's having an impromptu info sharing discussion with the folks on staff who are willing to share in (and create) second hand smoke. You can reiterate that you'd be glad to go with them to get a breath of fresh air and share info - but you're really NOT OK with the smoke... so please either leave the work place inside or find some other way to share the info with everyone equally. Best done in private and probably the most fool-proof way to start.

  • Find a way to change the scene that is more subtle - being a conflict-avoider, I often do this. Find a place for smoke breaks with enough ventilation that the second hand smoke isn't an issue for you.... suggest taking walks... in essence keep the informal info sharing, but with a more healthy alternative break format.

With any of those options, going to HR remains an option as a next level step. 9 times of 10 in my experience, HR will point you back to the middle option - speaking to the boss. In most cases, that's the perferred first step, with the overriding exceptions being that the boss has done something so far beyond what is OK that there's no way the employee should have to have further contact with the boss. I don't think most people would find that the case here - smoking and chatting isn't a terribly offensive combination.

If you haven't talked to the boss about the issue - raise it. If nothing else, a good boss should appreciate that you're bringing up the issue in the most easy to resolve way.

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    I don't see joking about it working. As you say, it's either taken as a joke, in which case it's ineffective, or (particularly nowadays, when many smokers feel increasingly victimised) it's taken as a non-smoker passive-agressively attacking them. Again. The rest of this answer is good though.
    – pdr
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 16:19
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    This is the 1st time I recall that I think your answer is just plain wrong. You want to "call" your boss on his interacting with her employees? Report your boss to HR for interacting with her employees? No matter what situation one sets up for "interacting with employees" somebody will always be left out. You can formalize and only allow boss/employee interactions at group meetings. Well then those who don't do well in groups are disenfranchised. You can require one-on-ones, well those who are socially awkward in those situations are disenfranchised. The bottom line is if you want to....
    – Dunk
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 15:03
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    have better interaction with your boss then you have to find "your way" to have those interactions. Some people play in their boss's golf league, that's comfortable for them, others like happy hour. Everybody has their own comfort zones. Find a method that best fits with you and your boss then you won't have to feel disenfranchised. Don't expect your boss to jump through hoops and then blame them if you aren't willing to do your part.
    – Dunk
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 15:04
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    If you disagree, I've got no problem being downvoted or up vote a better answer. But I stand by this one. It wasn't that long ago that the male bosses of the world would "just hang out" and exclude or forget to invite the women who were on the team in the same capacity. Exclusive access to the boss creates a barrier - whether it's smoking, golfing or going to strip joints together. It's shades of grey here. @Dunk - if you disagree, please do contribute your own answer so it can be upvoted. Commented May 2, 2013 at 13:50
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    I'd expect that he'd be willing to realize that there's a difference between "hey how's it going?" type answers and standing outside for 20 minutes making decisions withing realizing that a significant part the team was missing. Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 16:37
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In addition to talking to the boss about it, if there are other non-smokers who also feel excluded from the informal network, perhaps you can organize a daily tea break or coffee break that you as group ask the boss to attend, so that you can have the same informal access to her or him.

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  • Along with @HLGEM's answer, I'd recommend suggesting going outside and possibly for a walk. I don't like smoking either, but find it tolerable if I'm not downwind.
    – user8365
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 18:55
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    +1 - was going to suggest something like this myself. Smoking isn't the only activity that coworkers can do together to provide that kind of atmosphere.
    – trpt4him
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 19:11
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    Yep, let's formalize an informal chat. Sounds like that would work really well. I'll bet 90% of the smokers conversations have nothing to do with work. That's what makes the other 10% so effective, because it's not formal, people feel comfortable to say what they want.
    – Dunk
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 15:10
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When I was at my first job, the non-smokers took a break every day in the afternoon. Typically 10-15 minutes where we just sat and talked. Sometimes bosses would come out and talk with us, sometimes people from other groups who happened to be near us when we took the break would get invited, too.

Everyone was welcome to take this break with us and just relax for a few minutes. I'd suggest finding a few non-smokers and starting up your own daily breaktime where you all go out and just relax. Maybe even invite your boss, and let him sit downwind of you to smoke.

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Livestream video and audio from the smoking-corner directly on a screen in the office, or ask them to send you an email copy of everything workrelated they discuss outside, of course only the parts that concern you.

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    without an explanation, this answer may become useless in case if someone else posts an opposite opinion. For example, if someone posts a claim like "Don't livestream video and audio from the smoking-corner directly on a screen in the office, nor ask them to send you an email copy of everything workrelated they discuss outside...", how would this answer help reader to pick of two opposing opinions? Consider editing it into a better shape, to meet How to Answer guidelines
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 19:29

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