Why You Had to Show Up at Work in the Snowstorm

Missing work when it snows is serious business.

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Unless you earn a living as an emergency responder or snow-plow operator, there's no reason to report to work amidst a winter storm. Or, at least that's what logic and humanity seem to dictate. But who said cooler heads prevail at work?! Unfortunately for middle-of-the-ladder employees, we rarely get to see our bosses' "softer side." In the northeast, we have experienced some the worst snow conditions in 114 years--and even that didn't make employers change their rigid tune.

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Missing work when it snows is serious business. Ramifications range from the "silent treatment" to the loss of pay and/or vacation days. With entrepreneur Peter Shankman hailing the death of work geography and social media maven Chris Brogan declaring an assault on "anywhen," you would think that corporate America has softened its stance on allowing workers to telecommute. When I say "telecommute," I'm not talking about popping into the office a few times a month. Rather, allowing workers to occasionally work from home--without penalty--when "extreme" situations arise.

The same employers who mandate that you risk your life to physically show up at work, are the same ones who like you to believe that you are expendable and that your job is not that important. Ironic, no?

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My values dictate that it's inexcusable to force workers to report to the office during a winter storm. It comes down to a personal edict: Don't make mom worry. I've spoken to several company executives about the issue, and none of them were willing to go on the record with the reasons why they are so inflexible when it comes to snow days. Here are my best guesses:

Why you are forced to report to work during a snowstorm

Lost economic output: Making money is the reason businesses exist, and it's the reason you get a paycheck. With billions lost because of snow (some estimates have it as high as $48.8 billion in lost productivity) in an already struggling economy, businesses are not willing to risk losing money.

Customer service: Just because there's white stuff on the ground doesn't mean people's problems stop. Imagine a customer's delight when they find help on the other line. The reality is when people are "stuck" inside because of inclement weather, they are more likely to tie up the loose ends they've been avoiding. With limited options for things to do, calling your company for help just might be one them.

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Beat out the competition: Remaining open "rain or shine" shows a level of commitment to customers. It also gives you bragging rights within your industry (Read: shame the CEO of the competition at the next golf outing). It doesn't impress me, but I never pretend to be in the majority.

Imagine two hardware stores in your neighborhood. You always visit Tom's store but they are closed because of the storm. You notice that Lou's down the block is open. Not only do you find what you need, but you realize that Lou has more inventory and cheaper prices than Tom. By not opening his store, Tom doesn't just lose the day's revenues, he could also lose a customer.

Avoid embarrassment: Weather is obviously unpredictable. By maintaining an "always-open" policy, you avoid the embarrassment of calling off work in advance and ending up with nary a flake on the ground. It also means that upper management doesn't have to spend time tracking the storm's progress.

Why you should not have to work during a snowstorm

Morale killer: The snow-day mentality is something ingrained in our heads since kindergarten. The excitement of going to bed with the wonderment of class being canceled in the morning was one of the best feelings on the planet. It's silly to think that we don't yearn for this feeling as adults. When other businesses and companies are closed, and your employer makes a decision to remain open, they are taking the wind out of the sails of almost every employee. Pumping them back up is not easy to do.

Low productivity: Do bosses really think it's "business as usual" during a snow storm? The majority of people have their mind in other places. Whether they are nervous about the drive home, anxious that they might get stuck at work, or incessantly checking weather reports--people are thinking about anything but work.

Safety: It's difficult to find out the number of traffic-related deaths because of ice and snow on the road, but you certainly can't argue that things are safer. Since we are all sons and daughters, why put our loved ones through the worry?

Your brand looks bad: Generation Y and (some of) Generation X have declared that the "badge of honor" for showing up at work when you're inconvenienced or sick is soooooo 1990s. With many inexpensive communication options available, almost everyone can do their job remotely--at least for a day! Old timers don't get this. They feel they need to be in the office, along with their staff, to prove that they are essential. These folks are also the same ones who are hanging around for a gold watch.

How does your employer handle snow days? I've done my best to view the argument from both sides, though I'm admittedly the guy who has no choice but to show up. I would love your help to fill in the gaps. Leave a comment below.

After working for FOX News and MTV Networks, Andrew G.R. founded Jobacle.com, a career advice, employment news, and jobs-site review blog.  He is also the author of The Exit Guide: How to Leave a Job the Right Way.

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