Snow joke

Snow joke

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1 Mar 2018

You know the routine. It snows. Britain stops. Now, the folks in the North of England and Scotland today have genuine cause for concern, but for others a fine dusting of snow causes the usual blind (and totally unnecessary) panic, schools close for reasons we cannot fathom and employees hole up in their largely snowless houses. As employers what could we and should we do when the weather turns icy?

For years myHRdept employment contracts contained ‘snow clauses’ but client after client thought they were silly, and so we took them out. Isn’t it after all obvious that employees should travel to work as soon as it is safe to do so, even if that is a bit later in the day? Shouldn’t it be taken as read that good employment behaviour involves coming to work, not spending the day wrapped in jimjams watching Homes Under the Hammer and eating buns.

Whilst all of these things are undoubtedly true the clients who didn’t like the clauses (some of whom are now contacting us from their empty offices asking us what to do) did have a point. Employment contracts don’t really need to state the blindingly obvious, and if they do, they’re only effective in making the point if people have read the clauses recently and so remember them.

It is a fact that Britain is less well prepared for snow than our Scandinavian cousins, and that is entirely understandable as we see snow only very rarely and they constantly live with the stuff for big chunks of the year. Our drivers don’t have the skills to drive properly in it, our schools don’t have the will to stay open in it (though that still mystifies me) and so we have a problem.

Unfortunately though some people make rather a meal out of it, and when those people are the ones you’re relying on to operate your business, that can be a problem. So what to do?

As usual it comes back to communicating effectively with your employees, in advance of the snow arriving if possible. The sort of messages that are normally well received are:

  • I don’t expect anyone to take real risks to come to work if its snowy, but I do expect people to make an effort
  • Think ahead, if schools are likely to shut can you club together with relatives and friends to ensure the kids can be looked after when you come to work?
  • Think ahead, if you think driving might be difficult are there alternative forms of transport available or can you car share with other staff or indeed friends/neighbours travelling in the same direction?
  • Don’t wait for the morning of the snow before you make these plans.
  • And lastly, and this should go without saying….if the snow is bad first thing and you really can’t travel, keep an eye on conditions – if they improve COME TO WORK PLEASE!

As a benchmark of commitment if you have staff living in similar areas some of whom make it to work and some of whom don’t, you have reasonable grounds to question the commitment of those people who don’t. Yes it’s possible to take disciplinary action etc. but that’s not really the way most businesses want to behave – better to head it off at the start and communicate simple messages clearly.

Years ago, when I was responsible for Coca-Cola’s manufacturing operation in the UK, we had a particularly bad snowy spell. With local roads genuinely impassable, the Manufacturing Manager of our Yorkshire plant demonstrated gold standard commitment. He rode his horse to work! Together with a small band of similarly intrepid employees (some came in on skis and sleds) they put together a skeleton crew and ran key lines for most of the day. Proper commitment from Yorkshire folk!

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