Treacherous roads: Should Minnesota employees stay home in bad weather?

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Can we all agree that driving is the worst part of snowy weather? The soft coating of white would make our city feel like a magical snow globe were it not for the havoc it wreaks on our roadways.

We Minnesotans like to scoff at, well, pretty much everywhere else when snow falls and cities essentially shut down. What’s that, DC? There was a forecast for two inches of snow that never fell and you all STILL took a snow day? Ha! We laugh in the face of flurries!

While we can all enjoy a good chuckle at the panic and chaos that ensues when more southern cities get even a dusting of snow, I argue that we take it too far to the other extreme here in the great white north. Unless you literally cannot move your car because it is walled in by several feet of snow or the roads are completely impassable, it’s generally expected that you will still try to come to work, even if that means sitting in traffic for an hour or two when your normal commute is 20 minutes (or waiting in the cold for a delayed bus).  

It’s time to stop trying to live the same way all year round, trying to work the same hours in each season even though the road conditions vary significantly. We need to accept the fact that we will likely have several days each winter month where the roads are treacherous, and plan for that.

On a person-to-person level, we must encourage each other to stay home on those days when it is technically possible to drive, but unsafe, frustrating, and exhausting to do so.

On an organizational level, we need to plan for our workplaces to work differently in the winter. Could we include a few bad weather days as work benefits, just like sick time or vacation time? Could we increase flexibility to allow more people to work from home? Could we switch to 4 day work weeks with 10 hour days in the winter, and allow employees to work on the four days with the best driving conditions and take the other day off? 

It may take some creativity to figure out the best way to plan for the reality of winter, but it can be done. The solutions must ensure that worker take home pay does not suffer, and will look different for workers who provide essential services like health care or child care than for office workers.

Just imagine what life in Minnesota would look like if more of us stayed home on snowy days. Instead of waking up an hour early, scraping the ice off the car, praying that the car will start, and proceeding onto road ways clogged with cars slipping or stuck, you could wake up at your normal time, decide to use a bad weather day, make a cup of coffee and contemplate snow shoeing or skiing or playing with the kids in the snow. For those of us who really do need to go somewhere, there would be less traffic to contend with.

Especially in light of the fact that our storms will only become more severe with climate change, we need to plan for bad weather days, instead of planning for the roads to be clear every day and then pushing ourselves to drive or bus regardless of road conditions. Let’s start changing our attitude toward snowy days, and push for our workplace policies to change as well.

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