I’m fired up today, and ready to kick butt – literally. I recently was shocked to learn that even in 2017 – with all that we now know about the dire health risks associated with cigarette smoking – 36.5 million Americans smoke! As a career-long wellness professional, and now the Onsite Wellness and Fitness Administrator at Businessolver, seeing that statistic made me sad – especially considering that smoking kills almost half a million Americans each year.
However, I also read that nicotine addiction may be as strong as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol – which makes quitting far more difficult than I’d thought. That helped me have empathy for smokers, and even admiration for the commitment and hard work it takes to kick the habit for good.
With that in mind, I wanted to be sure to encourage employers nationwide to support employees today through the Great American Smokeout, an annual event hosted by the American Cancer Society to encourage smokers to quit smoking, and move toward a healthier life with a reduced risk of cancer. Today is a helpful reminder that as a family member, friend or coworker, you can play a role in helping a smoker quit.
On a companywide level, implementing a smoking-cessation program is a great way to set the standard for your organization’s culture of health. A few things to keep in mind when developing your program:
Make it official
Create a program with clear goals, with equally clear milestones and incentives. A formal, structured plan will show employees you’re committed to be a partner in their effort to quit. It also keeps employees accountable by encouraging them to write down goals and attend check-ins.
Set employees up for success by allowing them to personalize their goals. Maybe 100 percent tobacco-free within six months isn’t realistic for a decades-long smoker; after all, statistics show addicts quit X times before finally quitting successfully and permanently. So, be flexible: A more achievable goal might be cutting tobacco consumption in half, or taking half as many smoke breaks throughout the day – and providing rewards along the way when they stay accountable and transparent with a “quit buddy.”
Of course, no program can be successful if employees are in the dark. Be sure to effectively promote your program rather than wait for individuals to seek it out. Inform new employees of the program during onboarding, and keep existing employees in the loop by highlighting it in internal communications – such as employee newsletters, blogs, or chat forums.
Create a network
As mentioned, smoking isn’t an easy habit to quit. But, like most things, it’s much easier with a support system. If participants are interested, provide the opportunity to meet with a counselor or a colleague who is a former smoker themselves. Shared experiences are an effective way to build a positive, supportive relationship. Further, a former smoker is well-positioned to be a champion for the participant, as they know the highs and lows of the process. Encourage them to establish weekly check-ins with participants, share their own story of quitting, and be a source of support during a challenging time.
Don’t forget to celebrate
There is no better reason to celebrate than when an individual has met goals to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Keep participants motivated by establishing milestones to celebrate along the way.
For example, after one week of being smoke-free, participants could receive a coffee shop gift card. After one month, they could receive a half day of paid time off. And when they’ve reached the six-month mark, the team could recognize their progress by going out for lunch together. Whatever you choose to do, keep in mind that providing incentives and celebrating progress helps employees feel supported, motivated, and accountable on their journey to quitting. It also gives teams an additional way to bond, knowing that they’ve supported a colleague during a particularly challenging journey.