Smoking as a Job Killer: Reactions to Smokers in Personnel Selection

Abstract

Decades of tobacco control initiatives have turned public opinion against cigarette smoking. Smokers, once considered glamorous, are now stigmatized in domains including the workplace. Extant literature lacks scrutiny of smoker stigmatization and devaluation within the job selection process, and mechanisms that lead to such outcomes. Using an experimental design, we empirically examine initial reactions to job applicants’ smoking behaviors within two samples (N = 122 Canadian business students, and N = 143 online U.S. respondents with hiring experience). We show that initial impressions are significantly worse when job applicants smoke versus do not in a store-based context. Moreover, this effect occurs indirectly through perceived likelihood of engaging in counterproductive work behaviors (and to some extent negative emotions experienced), and is conditional upon respondents’ own attitudes towards smoking (particularly within the U.S. sample). These relationships—similar for customer service and inventory management jobs—are indicative of potential biases within the hiring process. Implications of these findings, and the moral dilemmas they raise around the treatment of smokers, are discussed from the ethical perspective of human resource management.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Raymond Lavoie for his help with the data collection, and Lukas Neville for his suggestions on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Roulin, N., Bhatnagar, N. Smoking as a Job Killer: Reactions to Smokers in Personnel Selection. J Bus Ethics 149, 959–972 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3101-2

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Keywords

  • Counterproductive work behaviors
  • First impressions
  • Human resource management
  • Selection
  • Smoking
  • Stigmatization