By Tom Gimbel, Crain News Service
CHICAGO (Jan. 9, 2015) — With the return of that old “polar vortex” (I hate that name — can't we just say freezing temps anymore?), there are a few things employers can do to prevent it from freezing workplace productivity.
To begin with, let's acknowledge the weather without being overly dramatic. Communication should come from the top — a simple statement letting people know the C level realizes the weather is an issue. If schools are closed due to the weather, it may affect certain employees who have to get coverage for their kids. Some responses: perhaps not charging a vacation day in this instance, reducing a dress code so people can layer up and wear comfortable, warm clothes.
Depending on the number of employees, perhaps certain commuting expenses could be reimbursed for a day or two. If employees are walking to work or have a long walk to the train, offer to reimburse their bus or cab rides. If employees have a car and there is a parking garage near the office, consider reimbursing parking expenses. Employees will feel appreciated.
Have something for them to look forward to when they arrive at the office. It can be something fun and timely: maybe getting sweatshirts with your company logo on it for everyone or a less expensive perk like hot chocolate, tea or gourmet coffee in the kitchen — or catering in breakfast or lunch for the day.
Get up and get active. It can be first thing in the morning or throughout the day, but hold a companywide group exercise or stretch. It may sound corny, but I've done this with employees and it gets them laughing and talking. Simply page out over your phone or intercom system, have everyone stand at their desk and “get their blood flowing” with two minutes of stretching. Change things up when people want to let the weather get them down.
Don't be afraid to call a snow day or allow employees to work from home (if you operate the kind of business where that's possible). Sometimes we can't beat the weather, and it's necessary to stay indoors. For those days, management should have a plan for how they will hold their teams accountable for working from home.
But remember, you can't call a snow day every time the temperatures drop. You have to be selective or staff will always expect a day off when it gets cold. Extreme situations may call for extreme measures.
Keep in mind some employees are able to and want to come in. We closed for one day last year during 2014's “polar vortex,” and sure enough, many employees still came in. Offer a flexible day. If there's a snowstorm heading to your area or temps continue to drop, let staff go early and/or come in late. It'll be a nice surprise.
Companies can't afford to lose productivity by having employees using up all their paid time off for when the temperatures drop. Sometimes it takes giving a little more to keep morale high.
And for companies that don't think they have to offer anything more than the paycheck they already cut, well…they probably don't have the highest employee engagement rates.
Tom Gimbel is founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing and recruiting firm. This piece appeared on the website of Crain's Chicago Business magazine, a sister publication of Tire Business.