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Avoid the 1st of the Year to Help Employees Quit Smoking

December 29, 2017
By Pivot
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New Year's Day is often viewed as a great time for making big life changes, dropping undesirable habits, and adopting new ones

That’s why many companies jump on the resolutions bandwagon and kick off their smoking cessation campaigns in January. But this may not be the wisest way to reach your goal of a smoke-free workforce.

5 reasons why new year’s resolutions might not be the best way to help employees quit smoking

January is already a stressful time

The first of the year can be hectic for employers and employees alike, as everyone recovers from the rush of the holidays and scrambles for a running start to the upcoming year. In the United States, it’s also the depth of winter, when cold and flu season hits the hardest, and most of the nation struggles with long, dark days and icy roads. Holiday bills are rolling in. Most people have put on a pound (or five). Gyms are at their most crowded. 

Put simply, January is not usually the happiest month for most people. They don’t have a lot of extra mental energy to throw into a monumental life change like quitting smoking, especially at a time when one more “should” could topple an already heavy load.

Resolutions may imply cold turkey

“The last cigarette I ever smoke will be on New Year's Eve.” How many times have you heard this from colleagues and family members who smoke? And how often is it successful? 

Studies show that only 5% of people who try to quit tobacco cold turkey are still smoke-free after 6 to 12 months. Unfortunately, for many, the cold turkey method doesn’t work.

One problem with New Year's resolutions is that they tend to be viewed as flipping a switch. “Today I smoke, and tomorrow I won’t.” But that’s not how real behavioral change happens with most people. It usually takes between 10 and 15 tries to completely quit cigarettes. Even people who say that they have quit cold turkey usually had numerous unsuccessful attempts in the past that they’re failing to mention.

January 1 is not a magical day. The month or the date isn’t what will help someone conquer a powerful physical or psychological addiction. The truth is that someone looking to quit usually needs a multitude of strategies to deal with their triggers and cravings. It’s a trial-and-error process, and often it takes time, practice, and the willingness to try.

External pressure can do more harm than good

Employees who smoke already know most of the reasons why they should reduce or quit. Their loved ones have probably been hounding them for years – as have others, including their doctors, coworkers, and friends. Add to that the peer pressure of people writing and verbalizing New Year’s resolutions all around them, and the internal feelings of guilt and shame they already struggle with due to the stigmatization of their habit. Another reminder from their employer, if the message is not tailored correctly, may be anything but helpful.

Quitting smoking tends to be an uneven process. Those looking to quit have good days mixed in with incredibly hard days. Some approaches are great for one person but not for others. An understanding employer will therefore show compassion and provide sustainable motivation to help employees stay on track when they ultimately make their decision to quit.

Quitting smoking is a marathon, not a sprint

Most people – 80%, in fact – have forgotten about their New Year’s resolutions by mid-February. All those well-intentioned promises evaporate in the face of the stress of daily life and the tricky nature of ingrained patterns. You can’t afford smoking cessation to be one of these. Instead, as an employer, you want it to be a well-thought-out commitment to a healthier lifestyle for your employees that results in lasting, sustainable behavioral change. 

When you accept that quitting smoking is a lengthy process, you realize the need for diverse forms of support. Just like training for a challenging physical undertaking, it takes a wise long-term plan for the person embarking on their quit to successfully go the distance.

The resources offered have to be effective past January 1

Let’s say your company runs a campaign to see how many employees will take the first step to quit smoking come January 1. You get a lot of people to add their names to the list. Maybe they even get a prize for signing up – and it all looks great on paper. But then what? 

Your employee smoking cessation program has to work - here’s how

It has to offer a wide variety of resources. These resources have to be equipped to tackle things like the moment an employee starts thinking about quitting, making the quit decision, all of the temptations that come with quitting, and ultimately sustaining a smoke-free lifestyle. 

There are three key ways this happens. One, people must be provided with opportunities to take ownership of how and when they decide to quit. Two, people need help developing the necessary skills for a successful quit. And three, they need an environment in which they have the space to experiment, try, lapse, and return to the program, all without judgment or fear of “failure.”

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