Winter wonderland provides warming reminder

December 27, 2010

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

NEW YORK — The winter wonderland blanketing the U.S. Northeast provides a welcome and warming reminder about work. The more than two feet of snow that bombarded parts of the region brought out the usual grinches bemoaning the economic consequences. Some companies will be hit hard, of course. But the energizing psychological — and even productivity — benefits for a weary labor force shouldn’t be overlooked.

The New York area is accustomed to, and prepared for, such meteorological disruptions. However, this latest blizzard, though forecast, defied conventions. It only took a few hours for the snowfall to surpass the three or so inches the Big Apple sustains on average during the entire month of December. More than 30 inches hit commuters in the tri-state area, shutting down rail services to and from Manhattan. Some 4,000 flight cancellations left airlines scrambling and holiday travelers stranded. Retailers put post-Christmas sales on hold as consumers sought out only salt and shovels.

The effects could be costly for an economy still struggling to shake off a nearly three-year winter of discontent. Even so, the weather conditions may have an upside. For many, the squall will mean an extra day off to frolic with their children or simply kick back. That’s no small emotional reward for workers who live in what has been called a no-vacation nation. The timing, such as it is, tacked on to an already extended holiday weekend should make it all the more enjoyable.

For the white-collar set, the whiteout could supply its own added advantage. A study last year found that 940 of 1,000 professionals at a consulting firm worked 50 hours a week or more, with half clocking in at least 65 hours. And that didn’t count the 20-25 hours on their BlackBerry. Though the researchers focused on requiring planned time off, they found that being away from the office helped improve communication, job satisfaction and customer service.

CEOs and other American workaholics would do well to heed these lessons as they wring their hands over snow-encumbered income statements. And for those idling at an East Coast airport eager to get back to the office, they can take comfort that at least it’s not London’s Heathrow. John F Kennedy International expects to be open by the end of the day.

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