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Dealing with Extreme Weather: An Inconvenient Truce

Today we've released the results of our most recent survey concerning the impact on the workplace of extreme weather. In Boston, we've had several severe workday snowstorms this year that ground the region to a halt. The picture here is from our storm on December 13th - when just about everyone's commute became a nightmare. My one hour commute stretched to three, and I seriously considered abandoning the Mini Cooper in a snowbank. I was relatively fortunate to have a back road alternative. Other friends and colleagues spent up to six or seven hours getting home. Across the country, similar snow, wind and/or rain conditions have made this winter especially brutal.In our survey of 2810 working adults, 33% of respondents indicated that their commutes had been impacted by severe weather in the last 3 months. Once at work, employees note they are distracted from their jobs by concerns about how their commute will be impacted when they do leave, how they'll provide alternative childcare or pick up arrangements, when or if their employers will decide to close early, etc. Employers, in turn, grapple with assessing the true severity of expected storms and determining the best course to ensure the safety of their employees while minimizing the adverse impact of closing or cutting back on staff.

Tips to help employers cope:

Extreme weather affects everybody (and seems to be on the rise), so collaboration between workers and employers is needed to balance employee safety concerns against the need to keep the organization running (hence today's "Al Gore'esque" title). What can organizations do to minimize the impact of severe weather on their employees and their business? Here's a sampling of suggestions from our Board of Advisors:

  • In our survey and our video of person-on-the-street interviews, it's clear that workers appreciate it when their employers put their safety first. According to our board member, David Creelman: "Since extreme weather is not that common, treating people well may be very affordable. It'd be useful to look at this in the big picture. If we have a generous policy towards workers under extreme weather conditions what will it cost us on average per year? The payoff in employee loyalty could easily surpass that cost."
  • Companies may not have the ability to predict the weather with 100% accuracy, but they can proactively create an extreme weather contingency plan. According to our board member, Tim Lett, the contingency plan should detail standard operating procedures during extreme weather including: how to contact personnel; prioritization of skills and roles needed; how personnel can contact their workplace; how to assess the staffing needs given the weather to avoid overstaffing; how to account for the weather event in the time and attendance/ payroll system(s), etc.
  • Many employees are already armed with laptops and can do their jobs from home. Employers are already leveraging this reality to meet their talent requirements with geographically dispersed workers. For those mobile workers who normally report to an office, managers can make it clear in advance that telecommuting is encouraged when weather is severe.
  • For employees paid on an hourly basis, the issue arises about how to pay them (or not) when the business is closed due to weather. While companies can't generally afford to pay people when they are closed for business, they might consider creative strategies to help people make up for lost time. Tim Lett suggests the option of including non-paid time lost on account of weather in daily and weekly overtime threshold calculations. This ensures that people will reach overtime thresholds sooner, without having to pay them for the time lost. Small concessions like these let employees know that you recognize their need to make up the lost pay and can help to build loyalty.
  • Leveraging flex time policies is another strategy that can work for companies - allowing people to work around the weather.
  • For many businesses, weather that makes it tough to commute will make it equally likely that fewer customers will show up to be served. Companies using automated time and attendance, scheduling and analytics tools can leverage historical data to better plan for future weather related disruptions to their business. Those businesses can plan for fewer staff, and work with their employees to staff necessary positions with the workers who are more willing and able to brave the elements; i.e. those who live closer, don't have child care or elder care issues to manage, etc.
  • In truly extreme circumstances, companies may need to provide their employees with transportation to and from public transportation hubs and/or from home.

We're expecting 4-10 inches of snow on Friday in New England. I guess I'll bring the laptop home just in case...

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