Howling wind. Snow-clogged streets. Other drivers ... who can’t drive. What a great day to stay home.
But the boss is at work. Customers or clients might be at the door. Some of your co-workers will make it in. And who wants to burn another vacation day or, worse, take an unpaid day off?
When conditions scream “Take a snow day!" many workers struggle with the decision. Even when employers say they stress safety first, there can be pressure to show up if the workplace is open.
As Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James said this week, authorities can suggest — but not order — businesses to close in the interest of public safety. But the fact is, the wheels of commerce will keep turning, even if some are stuck in the snow. And, like it or not, some workers have to work.
“That’s why the best places to work talk about these decisions ahead of time," said Leigh Branham, an employee engagement consultant. “They know who are mission-critical employees and they know how those people can get to work."
Some hospitals are good at that. They bring in cots or reserve hotel rooms and have transportation procedures to get and keep essential employees on site. St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, for example, housed more than 300 employees in last week’s Midwest storm.
Engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, which has earned a national “best places to work" award, told its Kansas City employees to use discretion about coming to work this week after the storm, but did plan to be open for business. Spokesman Roger Dick said the company has tried to make it easier for people to work from home with a new computer access network.
As for whether employees might feel subtle pressure to come to work, Dick said, “As a company, we emphasize safety. I can’t imagine some individual feeling pressured to come in just because a couple of their co-workers did."
Still, for many workers who are not mission-critical, snow day decisions are tough.
“How committed are you to your job?" said Lee Bolman, leadership professor at the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “How vulnerable do you feel if you don’t show up? What kind of other pressures, like child care options, do you have? What’s your commute like?"
For most workers, the first order of snow-day business is to check in with the employer. Often, in this service economy, there’s scant productivity loss if employees are able to work well from home.
The work pressure is different for manufacturing and retail operations. Most major manufacturers have regularly updated hotlines for employees to call when bad weather hits. Those recordings relay shift-by-shift decisions.
Employers, in general, present three options: Temporarily close. Open with a skeletal staff. Tell employees who can to work remotely.
Staying home is a no-brainer for workers who have the luxury of remote access.
Others, including hourly workers and part-timers, struggle with a financial hit: If they don’t show up, they don’t get paid. That’s especially true for restaurant and retail workers. Needing a paycheck is a powerful incentive.
“For some people in this economy, a day or two without pay adds to the catastrophe," Bolman said.