This Habit Makes it Harder to Get a Job, and Shrinks Your Paycheck

Businessman smokes a cigarette during a break

Businessman smokes a cigarette during a break | Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Getting rejected is hard enough. Making sure your resume is in tip-top shape, developing and practicing answers to the trickiest interview questions, and working on your confidence and poise is typically the path to success on the job hunt, but there are intangibles we often don’t take into account that can derail us completely. Sometimes, those are things outside of our control. Other times, they are lifelong habits that we don’t give much thought to.

But those can cost us. Not only in terms of job opportunities and career advancement, but also in earnings. The hard part is knowing what the intangibles are that can turn into liabilities. New research from Stanford has pinpointed one specific habit that is particularly damaging: smoking.

A one-year observational study, aimed at getting an idea of the effects smoking has on employment, found that smokers not only have a hard time initially finding work, but that once they do, they earn less than non-smokers. Up to five dollars less per hour, in some cases.

“Studies in the United States and Europe have found higher smoking prevalence among unemployed job seekers relative to employed workers. While consistent, the extant epidemiologic investigations of smoking and work status have been cross-sectional, leaving it underdetermined whether tobacco use is a cause or effect of unemployment,” the study says. “An observational 2-group study was conducted from September 10, 2013, to August 15, 2015, in employment service settings in the San Francisco Bay Area (California). Participants were 131 daily smokers and 120 nonsmokers, all of whom were unemployed job seekers.”

The Stanford team found “the estimated risk difference indicated that nonsmokers were 30% … more likely on average to be reemployed at 1 year relative to smokers.” On top of that, “Among those reemployed at 1 year, the average hourly wage for smokers was significantly lower.” Specifically, smokers earned an average of $4.68 less than non-smokers.

There are, of course, other factors that needed to be considered with a study regarding employment, and the researchers actually did take those into account when the results were published. The conclusion still found that smoking was a significant liability to job seekers. “With additional covariates of sex, stable housing, reliable transportation, criminal history, and prior treatment for alcohol or drug use (25.3% of observations trimmed) reduced the difference in employment attributed to smoking status to 24%, which was still a significant difference.”

Even with other factors controlled for, smoking does seem to have a significant impact on earnings and career advancement. Of course, we all know smokers who are successful, so this doesn’t absolutely mean that if you’re a smoker, you’re doomed. But the data suggests that it doesn’t do you any favors, and is, in fact, a liability.

From an employer’s standpoint, it’s understandable as to why you might want to avoid hiring a smoker. As we’ve covered previously, tobacco use is a huge drain on resources. Economy wide, it adds up to billions of dollars in lost productivity and additional health care costs. Not only do smokers require more breaks to have a cigarette (meaning they’re costing employers in lost productivity), they’re typically not as healthy. That means taking additional sick days.

But there are laws concerning whether or not employers are even allowed to ask if you’re a smoker during the hiring process — so that muddies the waters a bit.

To elaborate on the findings, ResearchGate spoke with one of the study’s lead researchers, Judith Prochaska. Prochaska says that though the research team took care to develop a study that compared “apples to apples” as far as smokers and non-smokers, there was one big thing that their conclusions didn’t reveal: the exact reasons why smokers have a harder time finding work.

“Why the smokers had a harder time finding work was not directly addressed by our study here. One thing we found, however, was that smokers in our sample tended to place a greater prioritization with regard to their discretionary spending on cigarettes than on aspects that would aid in their job-search, such as costs for transportation, mobile phone, new clothing, and grooming care,” Prochaska said.

The lesson here? Kick the smoking habit, if you can. Not only is smoking linked to a huge number of health conditions and diseases, but it’s evidently going to hurt your career.

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