Today in Massachusetts we're experiencing our 3rd nor'easter this month, with up to 24" of snow expected in the Boston area. People who don't need to go to the office to do their work are hunkering down at home, laptop in lap and cocoa in hand. That is, as long as they still have power. If school is cancelled, as it is almost everywhere in Massachusetts today, working parents are juggling childcare alongside their work responsibilities.
For many workers, though, there is no work-from-home option. Workers in emergency services, healthcare, public works, and other professions don't get a pass for inclement weather. In many cases, they are not only working, but working overtime.
What can employers do to balance the needs of their business with the needs of their employees when extreme weather strikes? Here are some strategies to cope:
Workers appreciate it when their employers put their safety first. Employee engagement and loyalty starts with a trusted relationship with their employer. When the employer makes it clear that they are committed to protecting their workers' safety by allowing them to stay home in bad weather, that goes a long way toward building that trust.
Encourage working from home (where possible) when the weather is severe. 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 working from home will be supported when the weather makes it dangerous and/or unproductive to commute.
Special considerations for hourly employees. 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 many companies can't afford to pay people when they are closed for business, they might consider creative strategies to help people make up for lost time. Consider 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.
Leverage data analytics to plan staffing. 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 anticipated 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.
Leverageflex time. Allow people to work around the weather. You may not need as many people on the bad weather day (see #4 above), but you may need more to catch up in the days to follow.
Provide transportation alternatives. In truly extreme circumstances, companies may need to provide their employees with transportation to and from public transportation hubs and/or from home.
Have anextreme weather contingency plan. The 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 under- or over-staffing; how to account for the weather event in the time and attendance/ payroll system(s), etc.
What does your organization due to help employees - and the business - to cope with severe weather?
Our blog and press release last week regarding how companies deal with extreme weather generated a lot of interest. I've had interviews with the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal radio, and HR Executive - all looking to follow up on what employers should do to prepare for and manage through extreme weather conditions. The AP article ran in many print and online newspapers across the US. The survey results and/or the AP article were referenced in dozens of television and radio broadcasts. The Boston Business Journal opened up their own survey on employer behavior on snowy days that indicates employees wish their employers would act more quickly to send them home when the weather is bad.
The level of attention this survey received points to the universal human desires it surfaces around our need to be treated with consideration and respect. People want to believe that their employers care about them, but when employers put business ahead of human welfare, that trust is undermined. On the other hand, severe weather conditions create an opportunity for workplace colleagues to connect with each other around a shared experience external to their work.