Common Sense and Snow

Jan 12, 2011 Snow in NY

If you haven’t heard, it’s snowing a lot today in the Northeast. My constant interest in the weather, and the fact that I’m up early, has sort of led to me becoming the guy who makes the decision on whether or not to close the warehouse for the day. It wasn’t a very difficult decision today. The timing of this storm essentially makes for the worst-case scenario of bad commutes both ways. Plus all of the schools were closed too, which always solidifies my decision if I’m on the fence.

Still, when I turned on the news and looked at the traffic cams, the highways were jam packed because the majority of workplaces are attempting to conduct business as usual. Considering that most jobs are non-essential, and that there’s an inherit danger involved in driving in this weather, and that most people will spend more time in the car than they will at work because 30 minute commutes will take two hours, and that most people can do some or all of their work from home…well the whole thing just seems archaic and stupid to me. There will be people who get in accidents today, get stranded in the cold, get injured (or worse), all because they had to go to work.

Seriously people, if you’re not a police officer or a doctor, stay home. If you run a company or have enough influence to make decisions about this kind of stuff, make your employees stay home. Live to fight another day. Even in the worst of winters there are at most a handful of these days around here. It’s not worth risking your life for a snow storm that will cleaned up by tomorrow. Also – it’s not like you’re going to get much work done when everyone spends the majority of their day cleaning their car and driving 10 MPH in a foul mood.

I couldn’t live with myself if one of my partners or one of my employees got in to an accident because I prioritized shipping some car cleaning products over their safety. And even if we did go in today and were able to ship out our orders, there’s no guarantee that they would go anywhere further than our local FedEx depot today. They’ll probably be delivered just as fast if they ship out tomorrow. On their site it says:

Unavoidable service delays should be expected due to local road conditions and in areas that have issued a state of emergency. Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our employees and contractors. FedEx is committed to providing service to the best of our ability in areas that can be safely accessed and where conditions have improved.

Most commerce slows down on days like these anyways, so why not just give your employees the day off, kick back and enjoy the snow day, and get back to work tomorrow?

8 comments on Common Sense and Snow

  1. Chris says:

    Couldn’t agree more. It always amazes me when this happens. I think it also goes a long way to employee moral to just get a day off and espcially not have to contend with shoveling, icy roads, and finding someone to take the kids if they have a snow day.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Good points Chris. The difference in morale when you get to stay home is huge. It shows that your employer has perspective on what’s important and what isn’t, and that they value your safety and your time.

      I didn’t think of the babysitting issue (probably because I don’t have kids), but remembering back to when I was in school that was a nightmare for parents. On top of everything else now you’ve got to find a last-second sitter. It can be even worse when there’s only a two-hour delay or the kids come home early.

  2. Rob says:

    Definitely a sensible move and one that reflects the values of a good boss. However, if you were some kind of company that would lose a lot of money over this, or one that was critical to ongoing society (power, medical etc.) then it would probably have been a more difficult decision. For you guys though – totally the right move, especially if fedex/ups aren’t shipping anyway!

    The UK has dealt with snow awfully the last couple of years – for a long time we didn’t get much snow so little investment was made in gritters and ploughs. When the white stuff did fall we pretty much ground to a halt. Some managers dealt with it in the worst way possible – getting staff in first thing and sending them home after a couple of hours or less. You end up with the stupid situation of drivers inexperienced with snow travelling through the weather on snow covered roads to do shitty jobs that don’t really need doing and then being forced home through the same weather. If you’ve got there and you’re going to have to go home anyway AND it’s not getting worse you might as well let your staff get some work done, especially if they’ve been through hell to get there.

    Another annoying thing is that if you DO get to work and find out it’s a “snow day”, you could have taken the day off and not lost any pay. Lots of my friends are able to walk to walk because we live close to the city centre. They’d find that they went into work and had to work extra hard to cover those who couldn’t make it in, not receive much thanks and those who couldn’t make it in (or didn’t even try in many cases) got full pay for the day anyway.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Totally agree Rob. There are still plenty of jobs that you almost always need to try to get to work. Medical, power, law enforcement, plowing, tow trucks, etc etc. I think by staying home I’m actually helping those people. I want to keep the highways free so that the plows can remove the snow and the emergency vehicles can get where they need to go.

      Like you said, then if you are someone who does get to work and everyone else doesn’t make it in, you’re “punished” for leaving early or being committed to getting to work. It seems like every business should have a system similar to the schools. You make a decision early in the morning – either stay open or decide to close or to have people come in late – and then you communicate it to your workers through a phone number and a website.

      In the UK have you noticed that they’re getting better with handling the snow now that it’s been a few years? I know it always takes quite a while here in the US when a new city starts to get more snow than it has traditionally. The infrastructure is probably much more difficult to put in place than it would seem.

      • Rob says:

        Yeah, definitely helps to minimise traffic, however there was one news story last month about there being too FEW drivers on a particular stretch of motorway to keep it clear of snow. Just done a bit of googling and can’t find the article though.

        Many businesses do have a similar system and it works well if they make the right call early enough in the day. The problems come with the non-system lots use where they say “make it in if you can, but if you can’t make it in you won’t have to take leave or lose pay” which I think is totally unfair.

        They are beginning to get better, yes. We’ve now got enough grit to get us through an ice-age, but we don’t have enough ploughs yet. I think the biggest problem we have generally is how close to capacity we run things here though – most of our main roads are busy most of the time, airports run at something like 95-99% capacity and it’s a similar situation with public transport. It means there’s very little margin for dealing with delays and things having to slow down, then of course we’ve got the infamous British media telling us how much we all suck and pointing at Finland saying how much better they cope (well duh, it snows there all the time and it’s got a population of about 4!)

  3. Mark W. says:

    Umm, just reading this now. I remember these conditions last month (90 miles west of you). I ordered a book online from Walmart (ship to store option) on 1/8 and picked it up on ~1/19. We’ve had our share of bad weather days this winter. Just like winters used to be many years ago! Also the employers who want to see you drag your ass to work on these worst of days would probably also insist that you come into work when you’re sick. So much for common sense. Speaking of weather, this Friday is forecasted to see temps in the high 40’s. Yea!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Mark, yes it’s definitely been one of those old school winters. We’re killing the average, almost 3x last year

      I can’t wait for Friday’s “warm” weather. I’ll be happy if it rains all day and the snow melts…getting sick of looking at dirty black snow on the sides of the roads. That shows how low my expectations are at this point 🙂

      I’m totally with you on the sick policies as well. We 100% want people to stay home, both for their benefit and the benefit of everyone in the office. One time a few years ago we were all sick at once, which can happen in a small company. The least sick people would go in, pack orders, and leave. It was not a fun experience.

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