If the 1,400 workers at Emerson Electric's St. Louis headquarters choose to head out and watch the solar eclipse at work on Monday, they'll get a pair of company-issued ISO-certified glasses and some detailed guidelines to follow.
“You must walk to your viewing location without looking at the sky,” the manufacturing company will tell its employees in a bulleted instruction sheet. Then, “turn your back to the sun, bend over, and then put on your solar eclipse glasses.” When it's over, reverse the instructions and “walk back into the building without looking up at the sky.”
Such careful precautions are just one way businesses are grappling with what's sure to be a major disruption in many workplaces come Monday. The first solar eclipse to cross the continental United States in nearly a century comes at an especially inopportune time for many employers. From 10:15 a.m. Pacific until just before 3 p.m. Eastern time — some of the busiest hours of the workweek — the moon's shadow will hit land in Newport, Ore., and leave the continent near Charleston, S.C.
For many workplaces, it's bound to be a drain on productivity. That's why many are embracing it: handing out glasses, giving employees flexibility to deal with long commutes or school closings, hosting parties with astronomy-themed snacks or even giving workers the day off.
“We started talking about this a couple of months ago — people will take the day off or they may not be productive,” said Cydney Koukol, chief communication officer at TalentPlus, a human resources consulting firm in Lincoln, Neb., that lies in the 70-mile-wide stretch of land that will fall directly in the moon's shadow known as the “path of totality.” So her company decided to throw a viewing party on its building's outdoor deck, complete with a chef-prepared meal of eclipse-themed food and drinks like Corona beer and Capri Sun. “It's about being human in the workplace.”
Monsanto, meanwhile, is closing its St. Louis headquarters, giving its 4,000 workers there the day off. “About 70 percent of our workforce are in science-based roles,” said Melissa Harper, vice president of global talent for Monsanto. “We want them to be able to witness it.”
Before the decision was made, she said, “people were thinking about ways to plan, ways to structure meetings around going to view things around the prime time. We thought, 'why not just let everyone equally share in this experience without concern about other things distracting them?' It was a no-brainer.”
At many other businesses, meanwhile, the opposite will be happening. As millions surge into the cities along the main path for the best viewing opportunities, plenty of other businesses — from hotels and restaurants to city and emergency services — will expect all hands on deck. Carrie Tergen, the mayor of Jefferson City, Mo., and the owner of a Hallmark store there, said she told all her employees to be available all weekend and all day Monday. “I'm sure we’re all going to be going out and looking at the eclipse, but we’re open for business as usual and, in fact, more than usual.”
Many companies may not be prepared for the disruption, said Shirley Lerner, an employment lawyer at Littler Mendelson in Minneapolis. The solar eclipse, she said, “hasn’t really caught businesses and employers’ attention in that way they need to be thinking about.”
“It's Monday. It's the middle of the workday. It's right in the middle of a lot of people’s lunch hour,” she said. “Will they be making a press to get out of the building? Will they be backing up elevators? Will there be people who just won't come to work?”
She also said companies will be dealing with the many last-minute requests for the day off that employees are likely to make: “If you have a team of 15 people and you really, truly need at least half of them on the phone during the prime viewing time, you can still only have so many people leave.”
Others aren't planning anything special, but expect employees to take advantage of flexible work policies to deal with disruption from the eclipse. At Lexmark in Lexington, Ky., spokeswoman Emily Rardin said that with a couple of local school systems closed, she assumes many employees will take advantage of the company's flexible work or unlimited vacation policies and work from home.
Other companies — both large and small — are making an event out of the day. Firms like advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, Ore., HCA Healthcare in Nashville, and The Motley Fool in Alexandria, Va., are doing everything from handing out viewing glasses for a roof-deck viewing to hosting parties with Blue Moon beer.
Katherine Kummerow, an adviser for the human resources organization Archbright in Seattle, said they'd be handing out Sun Chips and “moon cheese” on Monday.
“I did see someone suggest moon pies,” she said. “We liked that, but it doesn't really fit in with our wellness program.”