· News

HR tops list of stress-smoker professions

HR was the most likely profession of all smokers to list stress as a reason for smoking

HR professionals are the most likely of all working smokers to smoke because they are stressed, rather than addiction or any other reason, according to new research.

More than eight in 10 (83%) HR professionals who smoke reported they smoke more when they are stressed, above those who work in property (77%), law enforcement (75%), management (75%) and social care (72%), a survey by nicotine retailer Haypp showed.

Rachael Mackenzie, director at wellbeing and performance consultancy Workathlete, told HR magazine that lack of control at work, often as a result of high workloads, can be a particular stressor.

She said: “HR professionals often spend so much time and energy ensuring the wellbeing of their employees, that they can neglect focusing on their own health

“It’s often when workloads appear to be out of hand that people most often reach for their unhealthy coping mechanisms.” 

Idris Arshad, head of people at charity Asthma & Lung UK said that dealing with stress ultimately needed to come on a case-by-case, personal level.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “There are many ways for HR to deal with stress, but it is all about the individual.

“We are all different in how we understand, cope with, and recover from stress. Ultimately, HR needs to follow the advice it dishes out to others.”

Mackenzie added: “Stress coaching that focuses on understanding the individual can help workers shift away from a reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, to adopting healthier alternatives. It requires a fundamental shift towards focusing on individuals and their needs, rather than offering a blanket HR policy for stress management.”

Happy also found that, of people who work in HR and smoke, over half (56%) smoke every day.

Read more: Half of HR professionals on verge of quitting due to burnout

HR professionals face comparatively high, sustained levels of stress, with surveys since the pandemic repeatedly suggesting that the profession has an issue with burnout. 

In January 2024, MHR research showed that 50% of HR professionals were on the edge of quitting their job because of burnout; in December 2023, more than a quarter of HR leads (28%) suggested they were overwhelmed, reporting that they had too many demands on their time at work.

Mackenzie said: “When stress hits, the fight or flight hormone release expects a movement-based response. 

“So, one technique might be to encourage workers to get out and take a walk or an exercise class. Sounds simple, but these are not always activities that are encouraged in the middle of the day.”

For HR leaders themselves, she added: “HR professionals often spend so much time and energy ensuring the wellbeing of their employees, that they can neglect focusing on their own health. Practicing some of the positive stress management techniques offered to employees, is a great step to shift the dial on their wellbeing.” 

“The biggest help is self-care,” added Arshad.

“Take a lunch break, take your leave without logging in, and work a normal amount of hours: the hardest bit is speaking up, to say ‘I need help'.

“While good workplaces have psychologically safe environments that allow this to be normal practice, unfortunately not every organisation is like this – so having an HR community to lean on [outside of work] is a great help.”

Haypp commissioned Censuswide to survey 4,000 UK smokers in April 2024.