Is Smoking Stigma Clouding the Objectivity of Employee Performance Appraisal?

By Gilbert, G. Ronald; Hannan, Edward L. et al. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Is Smoking Stigma Clouding the Objectivity of Employee Performance Appraisal?


Gilbert, G. Ronald, Hannan, Edward L., Lowe, Kevin B., Public Personnel Management


The purpose of this research effort is to examine the relationship between smoking tobacco and job performance. Employees who smoke have become stigmatized in the workplace, and this may influence perceptions about their performance on the job.

Changing Societal Attitudes Toward Smoking

Today, smoking is a social stigma; it has not always been that way. At the turn of the 20th century, smokers were socially denigrated. During World War I, use by men became acceptable. By the mid-forties, smoking was socially acceptable and culturally attractive for both men and women, with the cigarette symbolizing social status, personal well being and strength.(1) The tide of social acceptability for smoking in the United States began to turn again starting with the U.S. Surgeon General's report on smoking and health and subsequent supporting studies empirically linking smoking to lung cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other illnesses.(2) In other studies, smokers were also singled out for causing industries to incur an additional ninety-five billion dollars in expenses per year as a result of greater absenteeism, higher medical costs, and reduced personal and peer productivity.(3)

Research And Public Awareness About The Detrimental Effects Of Smoking

Growing Anti-smoking Sentiment

The following facts have contributed to a widespread public anti-smoking sentiment. The Bureau of National Affairs and the Society for Human Resource Management reported that eighty-five percent of responding firms restrict smoking in the workplace.(4) Smoking is now banned in every federal government facility, the FAA has banned smoking on U.S. domestic flights, and entire restaurant chains like McDonalds have eliminated its use by both its patrons and employees.

Personality Differences Between Smokers And Nonsmokers

Smokers' personalities may further contribute to the smoker being viewed as socially abnormal. Several studies reported smokers to score higher on personality measures associated with emotional coldness, egocentricity, hostility, and/or neuroticism.(5) Most notable are the findings reported by Gilbert where, following his review of 31 studies pertaining to smoking and extroversion, 31 studies pertaining to smoking and neuroticism, 19 studies pertaining to smoking and depression, 21 studies pertaining to smoking and anxiety, 10 studies pertaining to smoking and hostility and anger, 47 studies pertaining to psychoticism and its component facets (impulsivity, sensation seeking, antisocial, aggressiveness, disagreeableness, rebelliousness, and deviance), and 4 studies pertaining to smoking and schizophrenia, it was concluded that "... individuals characterized by chronic psychological disorders and those who do not adhere to traditional social values are more likely to smoke than are others."(6) Though the percent of the smoker population who have such psychosocial disorders is likely to be small, any difference between smoker and nonsmoker populations would likely strengthen the negative bias towards smokers in general.

Stigmatization of Smokers

Awareness by others of a person's smoking status generally results in negative evaluations of that person's attributes. Changes in public policy, negative effects on health, social costs, and possible psychosocial disorders, have all contributed to the stigmatization of smoking, with potentially detrimental consequences for the smoker in the workplace.(7) A recent study supporting this assertion found that supervisors who smoked were rated by their subordinates to be less effective leaders than were supervisors who did not smoke, regardless of the subordinate employee's smoking status.(8)

Smoking As a Social Stigma

Today, cigarette smoking is viewed to be a social stigma.(9) Social stigma is a result of a person being tainted by a physical or personal attribute that is considered taboo, marking the person as different from others in a category. …

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