Does nice weather dampen workplace productivity?

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March 21, 2012, 6:26 pm
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Inside the corporate offices of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream in South Burlington, Vt., Liz Stewart admitted she sometimes groans about her windowless workspace.

"I just want to see outside," she said, smiling.

It is especially torturous, Stewart said, when she knows how many friends and neighbors spent the day sunning themselves, reading outside, or enjoying a leisurely lunch. Some Vermont communities saw temperatures climb into the 80s Wednesday; many others nearly did.

The shops and restaurants on the Church Street Marketplace in downtown Burlington, Vt. were busy. One couldn't help but wonder if some of the customers skipped work or cut class to be out there, or at the very least, wonder if they took very long breaks to enjoy the record-breaking warmth.  

Ben & Jerry's does let staff work flexible schedules, so many employees can still enjoy the weather. Stewart can just take her work outside, by using her laptop on a picnic table.

"This is nice," she beamed, enjoying the sun.

"I think it's a very civilized way of working with employees," Champlain College business professor Joe O'Grady said of companies that allow flexible work hours or environments.

O'Grady teaches human resources classes at Champlain. He said workplaces have long wrestled with decreased productivity on nice days.

"HR people often refer to this as 'seasonal absence syndrome,'" he explained.

O'Grady said Fridays and Mondays are when unplanned absenteeism spikes the most, but not necessarily always in the warmth. Good days for skiing or hunting can also have people calling in sick.

"There was one study done on this, a serious study, about five years ago," O'Grady remembered. "And it suggested that about 40 percent of workers were willing to take a day off because of the weather."

O'Grady explained that's why many companies offer casual Fridays, end-of-the-week cookouts, four-day schedules, or combined banks of vacation and sick time. Measures like those are aimed at making the office more appealing, and thus, reducing surprise absenteeism on desirable days to have off.

Liz Stewart said she is glad her company's laidback attitude lets her balance work and play.

"Tomorrow, my ultimate plan is to get in a little earlier than normal and leave by 3 p.m. or so, because tomorrow's supposed to be just as nice as today!" she said.

Tags: weather, vermont, business , spring, workers , productivity, Jack Thurston, weather stories, worker productivity
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