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When Your Full-Time People Quit Tobacco, Do Gig Workers Quit Too?

When Your Full-Time People Quit Tobacco, Do Gig Workers Quit Too?

Chances are you have contract workers in your organization now, and if not, you will soon.

By 2020, half of the workforce is expected to be freelancing. Of gig workers interviewed, 50% of freelancers said they wouldn’t go back to a traditional job, no matter how much pay they received. Estimates indicate that 15.5 million U.S. workers are independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary agency workers, and workers provided by contract firms.

If you’re already offering a quit tobacco program to your employees, it may be worth making the offering available to gig workers, too. As you consider this option, evaluate who makes up your gig workforce—a cessation program may be an enticing perk for them, and extending the benefit will support the healthy workplace you are striving to put in place.

Offering a quit tobacco program may entice gig workers

While employers with more than 50 employees are required by law to offer health benefits, 20% of full-time freelancers report not having health insurance. Of those who do purchase health plans on their own, they say they pay more for the benefits each year.

For these contractors and others, participation in your cessation program may be a significant “portable benefit,” curated offering, or wellness perk. By offering them a program to which they may not otherwise have access, you can help gig workers feel there is an upside to working with you.

Beyond “just pay,” it’s a sign that you’re investing in them as people. Plus, the right perks can encourage gig workers to stick around for ongoing contracts or additional gigs.

More than three-quarters of freelancers say they view freelancing as better than working at a traditional job with an employer. When labor is tight, and you need to get the work done, providing innovative offerings for freelancers is one way that you can stand out because they typically don’t receive any perks from their gigs.

A healthy workplace benefits all workers

There’s no shortage of research tying work to physical and mental health. Health programs such as quit tobacco programs help employees develop knowledge, self-management, and coping skills as well as build a support network.

As an organization, look at the experience you’re creating for the people contributing to your organization—as full-time employees, and as gig workers. If you’re serious about shifting to a healthy workplace, it’s impossible to encourage one group to be healthy and not understand that the smoking habits of contractors could affect the health of all workers.

One study found that coworkers or friends keep smokers connected to pro-smoking norms. Among coworkers, smoking was a way to increase social harmony. One person who was trying to quit said, “When I was trying to quit, a coworker said to me, ‘Hey! Are you okay? You’re not smoking? Then what will you do during the 3:15 break?’ And then they gave me a cigarette.”

At this relational level, to reinforce a healthy workplace, behavior change requires support regardless of distinctions between a full-time employee and contract workers. If you’re offering a quit tobacco program to employees, but filling smoking areas with gig workers, what message does that send?

As you look at the possibility of extending cessation programs to contractors, confirm the regulations in your state. In some localities, contract workers who are offered traditional benefits may be classified as employees. Also, make sure whatever you offer is “portable,” meaning it’s something the worker can access even after his or her contract or assignment has ended.

To learn other tips on how to create a healthy and tobacco-free workplace, see Your Boss Doesn’t Support a Smoke-free Policy…Now What?


Jessie Saul, Ph.D.
Jessie Saul, Ph.D.

Client Success Director

Dr. Jessie Saul brings 16 years of experience in program evaluation and strategic planning with tobacco cessation. She applies this deep understanding to help clients improve program performance and reduce tobacco use among populations. She earned her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University.

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