The Solar Eclipse and “Lost Productivity”

eclipse_pngJust as predictable as the solar eclipse is the news release about “lost productivity” resulting from said eclipse (or the Olympics or the Word Cup, or whatever big event get lots of attention).  Imagine: the total cost to employers of all the time employees spend paying attention to the big event instead of working.  Here’s how it’s done: Estimate the number of employees paying attention to the big event, multiply that by your guess how many hours they each spend on said event, on average, and then multiply that by the average cost of an hour of employee’s time (wages, benefits, etc. paid by the employer) … and voila! … you’ve got some huge number of dollars.

But, it seems to me it’s basically bullshit. and here’s why:  Even though a large number of employees might spend some time at work paying attention to the big event, in most workplaces all of the work still gets done.  What really happens is that employees shift their work activities to other times.  They allocate their lunch hour and break time to the big event.  Maybe they come in earlier or stay later.  Maybe they work faster than normal when they’re not paying attention to the big event.  Whatever they do, all the work gets done and it doesn’t cost employers anything more than usual.  Nothing, or at least very little, is “lost” and “productivity” is just fine.

The office where I work is a perfect example.  My office produces certain statistical reports and such on a certain schedule.  We haven’t missed a deadline in years.  (The last time we did miss a deadline, it was a result of a huge snowstorm that prevented people from coming to work — before telework was as common as it is now.)  During today’s eclipse, I’m sure many of my co-workers will take some time to see for themselves what an eclipse is like.  Oh my gosh!  That’s “costing” our employer thousands of dollars in “lost productivity”!  Then, when they’ve seen enough, we will all go back to work and we will meet the next deadline as we do 99.9% of the time, just as we do in any month without an eclipse.

So, you might ask:

Q: Why the news release about all the millions of dollars of “lost productivity”?

A: Free publicity.

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