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When it rains, it pours

February 22, 2008

From mountains of snow and sheets of ice to torrential rain and whipping winds, many regions across the United States have experienced record-breaking extreme weather during the past few months. According to “Extreme Weather Wreaking Havoc on Employee Attendance”, a new survey sponsored by The Workforce Institute at Kronos® Incorporated conducted online via Harris Interactive, one-third (33 percent) of full-time employees surveyed who commute to work on a regular basis have had their commute to or from work affected by severe weather in the past three months. Of these, 23 percent have arrived to work late, 16 percent have had to leave early, six percent were not able to make it to work at all, and five percent chose to work from home rather than attempt to brave the harsh conditions. Additionally, among those full-time employees who commute on a regular basis, 61 percent said that severe weather has added time to their usual commute.

“Workplaces around the country are feeling the impact of the recent severe weather,” said Joyce Maroney, director of the Workforce Institute. “Whether it's trying to find employees to cover a shift on the day of a big storm, the need to make a snap decision on whether to close or remain open, or dealing with the larger-than-usual number of employees working from home who are over-burdening the network – the weather is having a real affect on daily operations.”

Reaction distraction

Forty-four percent of full-time employees who say severe weather has affected their ability to commute to or from work in the past three months say that extreme weather has impacted their work schedule. Thirty-nine percent of these employees cite a loss in productivity. That loss may be attributed to the activities employees are engaging in while at the office during severe storms. Among those full-time employees who commute on a regular basis, discussing the weather with co-workers (76 percent), watching the weather through a window (73 percent), and spending time seeking alternate arrangements for child care, travel, etc. (17 percent) were among listed activities they engaged in during severe weather while they were at work.

“It's only natural that employees will have a difficult time focusing when they are at work during a major weather event,” says Maroney. “Whether they are worrying about the ride home, curious about whether or not the office will close, or scrambling to find alternative means of transportation or child care, it no doubt throws a wrench into one's daily schedule.”

Payday mayday

Twenty percent of those whose commute was affected by the severe weather say they have lost pay because of being absent; 14 percent reporting that their absence has impacted the working schedule of co-workers, causing co-workers to have to come to work or stay late in order to cover for them.

“Particularly in the world of hourly employment, last-minute absences because of something like severe weather can cause a headache for managers,” says Maroney. “They need to not only track who's not showing up, but quickly and efficiently find employees with a similar skill-set to cover for the absent employee. Only 36 percent of full-time employees who commute to work on a regular basis said that their employer uses an automated system to keep track of absences. This means that the majority of employers out there are, in a sense, flying blind. They're trying to keep track of ever-changing schedules and pay statuses without help from an automated system which can greatly reduce the administrative time required for such processes.”

Bright light

Eighty-seven percent of employees say that their boss/supervisor is usually understanding when severe weather is the cause for missing work, and almost half (45 percent) of all respondents say their workplace has closed for either a full or partial day because of severe weather.

“Best practice employers communicate clearly and in a timely fashion with employees about their policies concerning weather and other emergency circumstances,” said Maroney. “Employees want to feel like their employer has their best interests at heart. Being understanding about absence due to severe weather and taking steps to ensure that employees are safe – such as closing the office when conditions are dangerous – can lead to a positive employer-employee relationship.”

Survey methodology

“Extreme Weather Wreaking Havoc on Employee Attendance” was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Kronos Incorporated between January 14 and 16, 2008 among 2810 U.S. adults aged 18 and over, of whom 1,529 were employed full-time and among whom 1,472 commute to work on a regular basis. Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the U.S. adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to be invited to participate in the Harris Interactive online research panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Workforce Institute's opinion
Communicate clearly and in a timely fashion with employees about your policies concerning weather and other emergency circumstances.  Be understanding about absences due to severe weather and take steps to ensure that employees are safe.  Closing the office when conditions are dangerous, for example, can help build positive employer-employee relationships, because employees feel that their employer has their best interests at heart.

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