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09 December 2023

You smoke, I hope... for gossip

By Alice Haine


It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, when it comes to office politics, the smokers are always in the know. Now I’m not saying I want a 20-a-day lung-blackening habit, but I do need to start hanging with the smokey crowd.

Many would argue that a cigarette break every 45 minutes is grinding businesses to a halt. With staff away from their desks for the five to 10 minutes it takes to inhale their cancer sticks, surely their work is affected.

It’s no secret, us non-smokers love to moan about the extra time nicotine-lovers are taking off throughout the day while we slog away at our desks. But in fact those regular breaks are far more productive than we realise. Go to any office in the UAE – or around the world – and you will find small groups of businessmen and women huddled outside chatting, cigarette in hand. And what us healthier and smug non-smokers don’t realise is that we are missing out on countless nuggets of office gossip. Not only that, business deals are struck over a quick puff, contacts are made and ideas are formed.

How many times has one of your colleagues returned from their cigarette break with an exclusive bit of information that leaves you saying ‘no’ with open-mouthed incredulity. Their source – always a fellow nicotine addict – has imparted this nugget of information through the shared moment of having a cigarette. It’s as if smokers trust each other more because they understand what it’s like to have an addiction. And the smokers’ club gives regular members’ access to colleagues throughout the company. If you think about it, most of us tend to socialise with the peers who work in our own departments/sections. We rarely stray into foreign territory for a chat. But smokers have access to people from every section of the company. From the CEO to the office boy, from accounts to sales, smoking brings everyone together. There’s something almost exclusive about it all which makes the rest of us feel left out.

In a previous office, I became so frustrated by missing out that I set up a coffee club for non-smokers. We were to meet once an hour for a shot of the black stuff and a catch-up.

But membership petered out quickly as coffee clubbers became increasingly jittery and wide-eyed. After all there are few people who can drink 10 coffees a day and not become nervous wrecks. Added to the fact we risked developing an addiction all of our own, the project was quickly abandoned. So it seems unless I take up the habit (which is highly unlikely) or become a passive member inhaling clouds of smoke, I will have to hope the smokers let me in on their secrets.

But surely there’s an alternative? I could form the fresh air club, the chocolate bar eaters club or maybe the printer/photocopier club. I could start printing endless sheets of work and hang by the machine in the hope of engaging fellow printers in idle conversation. I’ll keep you posted.