Up In Smoke

So, how about another CEO blog on the debacle of “health care reform” in the tortured, partisan nation of America?  Nah… I am gainfully employed running our business, so no time to indulge in the practically pornographic vitriol perfuming the civic square from the Left and the Right; I get paid to deliver sustainable results for our shareholders, a mix of financial profit and civic accountability.  Which is why the overwrought, dishonest “debate” about health care pisses me off so much—if the demagogues on both sides bleat less and seek real solutions more, maybe we could deliver health care for citizens in a sensible fashion.

Here’s a simple case in point.

At our company, turns out that health costs spiral most viciously for two populations—the employee who lives a self-indulgent unhealthy lifestyle (the overweight, outta shape exec) and the employees (cigarette smokers) who buy into the load of crap that Phillip Morris sells (like the idea that smelling like an ash tray is sexy).

Hey, this is New Hampshire on the line, so live free or die—but this is also Timberland, Stratham NH 03855, make your own choice about smoking, but not at work.  We’re not paying for poor choices any more in the form of inflated health costs.  Doesn’t take a politician to figure this one out; don’t need tea parties or white wine spritzer parties- No more smoking at Timberland.

In the scheme of what I can do to run my business more competitively, efficiently and responsibly — this is what consultants call low-hanging fruit.  No more “butt-huts,” no more duck-outside-the-back-door-for-a-quick-cigarette leniencies, no more validating unhealthy choices.  No phony cost saving estimates from politicians—the CEO either reduces health costs, or delivers lower profits and bears that accountability more directly than a mid-term election.  So—no more smoking anywhere on Timberland real estate.

Is this mandate going to upset a subset of our population who don’t agree with my logic or my action?  Undoubtedly.  But I am not pursuing overnight polling–as a CEO committed to the notion of responsibility — for my business, for employees, for the environment — I’ll take my lumps on this one.  Talk is cheap and action is hard – and I’m perfectly comfortable and unapologetic about choosing hard in this case.  Call me names, but don’t call me inert.  Our smoking ban takes effect next Monday – not coincidentally, World No Tobacco Day.

And a smoking ban has to be the beginning, not the end, of this effort to force accountability into the health care system.  Why shouldn’t we eliminate unhealthy foods—the over-processed, nutrition hollow “snacks” that big brands shove at consumers globally—from vending machines and corporate cafeterias at TBL?  We’ve already begun beefing up our health and wellness program offerings, including creating real, concrete, financial incentives for employees to live a more healthy lifestyle.  Exercise and eat healthy, and you pay lower employee contributions to our health plan.  Self destruct on snacks and sodas on your sofa while blowing smoke rings—your choice, but expect to pay for those choices in health premiums at work.

Yeah, I can hear the criticisms—I sound angry at the government for so badly managing “health care,” and I sound pretty worked up about individuals at TBL taking more responsibility for the choices in their life that impact the costs of our health programs.  I know that there is a line between advocating and interfering, between respecting personal choices and doing what’s in the best interest of our business.  How close am I to these lines?

Last summer I proudly announced our corporate bottled water ban, and I got lots of love letters from fellow CEOs in the bottled water business, letting me know that my slot on their holiday card list was rescinded.  Tant pis.

So, with no smoking at Timberland, we square the circle—fire and water.  We aren’t hugging trees here—we’re trying to run a sustainable business.  Feedback appreciated.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

  • MrEthiopian

    Jeff, your bottle water ban was a flop, people at TBL still brought in bottle water from home, your so called ban was nothing more than a suggestion, giving one and all a refillable TBL bottle would have helped your effort.

    How is the non- smoking policy going to work, wont employees just go out to there cars and if need be drive off the TBL campus for a fix? You figure most filthy but heads take three to five smokes a day and given that if those people now need to leave TBL then at 30 minutes of time per smoke, times 5 a day is 2&1/2 hours times 5 is 12 &1/2 hours times 52 weeks is approximately 27 full days. Will you be giving people who don't smoke an incentive, since those people on average have been putting in a longer work week than a smoker, an extra week would be a great start?. What about the people that have been at TBL for 20 years and smoked everyone of those years, will you be getting them (Medical) help in dealing with this sudden change?

    Jeff we have many things to talk about, I look forward to hearing from you.

    Mr.E

  • Get Healthy

    Jeff, I for one believe in what you are trying to do, as a 38 year old male my metabolism has finally caught up with my poor choice in diet. Needless to say I had a choice, clean up my act or risk oncoming medical issues, still a ways off but why let them get closer. As someone who has worked in corporate America most of my adult life I have always found it annoying and unfair that people are able to jump up and take a break and go out and smoke. The world has gotten away from the fact that the non-smokers are the people doing the right thing by working not taking unauthorized breaks every hour.

    As someone who did a small stint without a job last winter I have learned to appreciate whatever a company is willing to do for me whether it is providing insurance, 401k or what have you, giving folks a chance to bring their health care costs down by getting healthy is a fantastic idea. Choose to do it if you want, if not, then fine, pay more. Some people choose not to smoke and some are perfectly willing to shell out $6.00 a pack for cigarettes, your choice. Whether your plan works or not is not the point. The point is it is now time to hold people accountable for their actions. As Mr E said below, I think it would be great to offer “quit smoking” courses. Some people are truly addicted and need a hand.

    My personal opinion, pass or fail on this one I am proud of you for trying, nothing good ever comes easy!

  • Bob Engleman

    Jeff,

    Before today, I'd never heard of you, your company, or your city; thankfully, that's no longer the case. At my age of 67, I was raised in an era that emphasized KISS as opposed to being politically correct, whatever the hell that means. Your candor and sense of what's right are quite refreshing; keep up the great work.

    Bob Engleman

  • dhill726

    Jeff,

    I am working in Minnesota to encourage more colleges and universities to adopt tobacco-free campus policies. While you are to be commended for setting a goal of a smoke-free campus for
    Timberland, I would advise you to slow down and delay implementing the new tobacco use policy until staff have been given sufficient notice so that they can have their questions answered and
    a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the change. I would also recommend Timberland implement not just a smoke-free policy but a tobacco-free policy.

    Better to change this cultural norm the right way rather than the fast way. Nicotine is a real addiction that effects all tobacco users.

    Dennis Hill
    ansrmn.org

  • Bob Engleman

    Jeff,

    I completely disagree with Dennis' advise to “go slow.” It has a similar ring to the “kind, sweet, and gentle” approach that reeks of ambiguity. ALL smokers know the ills of their habit; they don't need to be educated, coddled, and/or pacified with any form of an extension. Your intent to give them a swift kick in their asses will introduce them to the worlds of reality, responsibility, and accountability. Words that, unfortunately, are far less meaningful today than 1/2 century in the past.

  • dhill726

    Bob,

    Thanks for making my case. So Jeff your call, you gonna kick some ass or treat your employees with the dignity they deserve.

    Dennis

  • Bob Engleman

    Dennis,

    You're welcome, but in actuality, it's you who deserve the thanks for highlighting the issue of what over 50 yrs. of placating these folks has accomplished: NUTHIN'! They continue to affect health premiums and spew their hazardous and putrid fumes upon the undesired. It's my opinion, decades of attempting the “dignified solution” has accomplished very little with the hard core smoker; it would appear Jeff agrees.

    Bob Engleman

  • Kmcphers

    I don't smoke and I live a pretty healthy life style, BUT I would be enrage by any employer treating me as if I was a piece of property! They are your employees not your personal slaves who you can dictate to like children. You sound like a power hungry ego maniac who apparently has been sipping to much of his own special cool aid. I just hope if your dumb enough to discipline or fire anybody as a result of violating your ridiculous policies, that they have some back bone and hit your dumb @ss with a class action sue. As for charging smokers higher healthcare rates, good luck on that one holding up in court you moron. Apparently your company must not have a legal department or you lack the brains to heed their advice!

  • Jeff Swartz

    Thanks for feedback here; a couple of points to add:

    1. Absolutely right instinct folks express, regarding our responsibility to our community to support smoking cessation efforts. In fact, we have formal programs in place, paid for by us, which employees can use. Fact is, employees don't use this benefit. Which is their right and choice. We gave everyone six explicit months worth of notice before the ban went into effect. Treated people here like adults, not like chattel. So, smoke if you wish – just not on our time or on our dime.

    2. As to productivity, if sneaking away to smoke is part of your day now, pressure is on you to figure out how to do your job and schedule the sneak-aways. We aren't clock punchers here – we are mission focused, and so the measure is not how many hours you work, but the quality of your work. We provide 40 hours of paid time to all employees to volunteer in the community – and we think of this not as a reduction in productivity, but as an investment in our community – internally and externally. Same thinking about health – healthy beats unhealthy. I believe that the smoking ban is an investment in healthy. And so even if there are short-term productivity trade offs, long term, our community internally wins.

    3. I can learn from anyone, critics and even disdainful critics; an open system for two-way communication is long term the only way to really know what's going on. I can even learn from employees who hide behind screen names, rather than seeking real change by engaging directly and constructively – but this form of “communication” fundamentally offends me. Every community has coward critics – folks who have strong opinions, who talk big, as long as they are sure that they won't be called on to defend their position. The internet has spawned this new pundit – sitting in their underwear in front of a screen, hiding behind a screen name, typing “big,” broadcasting but not really engaging. Don't believe that banning bottled water was a good idea? Good for you – but an anonymous post decrying a real effort to make a difference is cheap theatrics. If you think we should have, or still should provide every Stratham employee a water bottle, show me you've got enough courage to back your conviction. Stand up at a town hall and make the suggestion. Are you afraid your solution won't be heard or respected?

    Jeff

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