Street Talk: Prepare for productivity blackout


For the first time since 1979, the United States will have a front-row seat to a total solar eclipse stretching 70 miles wide and following a path from Oregon to South Carolina. While this event is exciting, much to many employers’ dismay, it is taking place right in the middle of the Monday workday, potentially disrupting productivity.

Estimates are that workers will need approximately 20 minutes to gather their viewing equipment and find a spot to watch the two- to two-and-a-half-minute solar event. How much money could this total solar eclipse really cost?

According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., about $694 million.

According to the BLS’ most recent American Time Use Survey in 2016, 82.8 percent of employed people worked on an average weekday. Additionally, according to the most recent data on flexible schedules from the BLS taken in 2004, 14.8 percent of the employed worked a shift other than a day shift.

Using average hourly wage data and the number of full-time employed workers 16 and over, the cost could hit almost $700 million nationally, according to the firm.

The cost to states and metro areas directly in the path of the eclipse, where traffic is expected to increase substantially, could see almost $200 million in lost productivity combined.

“That is not to say employers need to board their windows and keep employees locked up in conference room meetings until the eclipse ends. Rather, looking for how to turn this lack of productivity into a way to increase morale and strengthen the team is a much better use of the eclipse,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of the firm.

It’s going to be pretty difficult to get people to keep working when the solar eclipse is happening, and preventing employees from viewing it will probably do more to harm morale than to increase productivity, he said.

“Since this is happening over the lunch hours, the financial impact is minimal. It offers a great opportunity to boost morale. Employers could offer lunch to their staff, give instructions on how to make viewing devices and watch together as a team,” Challenger said.

“Building in time around lunch to mark the special occasion will encourage employees to interact and have something to be excited about,” he added.

“A loss of productivity does not necessarily mean that good things cannot come out of this eclipse. By considering how this event may impact employee morale, companies can turn this potential monetary loss to a gain when it comes to employee satisfaction.”

Political bedfellows

Commissioners Emily Brieve, Stan Ponstein and Robert Womack joined more than 50 county commissioners from across Michigan earlier this month at a White House Conference to discuss greater cooperation between local and federal leaders. The Kent County commissioners were invited by the Trump administration to share their views on public policy challenges facing local governments.

"Communicating with the various levels of government can be like playing a game of telephone. This meeting was important because it gave us, at the county level, a direct line to the White House,” said Brieve, whose district includes Gaines and Caledonia townships. “We were able to communicate our role in local government and bring light to issues important to counties in Michigan. This opportunity has allowed us access to departments that provide funding for core services to Kent County residents.”

Ponstein, whose district includes Grandville and part of Wyoming, said he felt honored to receive an invitation. "No one with the Michigan Association of Counties has ever known of the White House inviting county commissioners to appear before them to speak of shortcomings of the federal government. I am glad I had the opportunity, along with two other Kent County commissioners, to have our voice be heard. I was asked often, ‘What does the public really think?’ I simply stated that in Kent County, when residents see a problem, they work together to find a solution. They don't feel that way about the federal government; they feel the system is broken, and it no longer works for the people.”

Double bubble

Metro Health: University of Michigan Health's gastroenterology department is bloating to more than twice its original size.

The Wyoming-based health care system announced it is hiring two new gastroenterologists and five physicians from Michigan Medicine to round out its expanded gastroenterology department.

In addition to the new physicians, Metro Health is adding subspecialty services to its gastroenterology offerings. The subspecialties began last Tuesday and include:

  • Hepatology, consultation and management of complex liver patients.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease, including Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, consultation and management of routine patients, medically refractory disease and second opinions.
  • Interventional Endoscopy, consultation for pancreatic or biliary disease, endoscopic ultrasound, ERCP services and endoscopic resection of large polyps and early-stage cancers.

Gastroenterologist Ryan Hamby said the expansion is intended to meet increased patient demand.

“The expansion in gastroenterology is just one of many ways we are working to provide services to patients in the areas of critical need while also continuing to create high-quality choice in the marketplace," Metro Health CEO Mike Faas said. "It’s happening here.”

Practical application

Engineering education met industrial money earlier this month at a university student showcase and employer forum.

At an event Aug. 4, Grand Valley State University engineering graduates displayed design projects with a value totaling $190,000 they completed for West Michigan companies.

The 19th annual Engineering Design Conference took place in the Kennedy Hall of Engineering and Keller Engineering Laboratories on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The event celebrated the completion of students’ senior design projects and GVSU’s partnerships with local industry, in which teams of students solve engineering design problems sponsored by local organizations.

The day began with an employer forum that featured panelists from JR Automation Technologies, Spectrum Health Innovations and DornerWorks. An employer luncheon and a session about recruiting students for co-ops followed. About 20 design projects completed by 116 students were on display.

All of the engineering students graduated in the evening. Engineering graduates at Grand Valley earn their degrees later than the traditional spring ceremony because they complete a yearlong co-op experience with a company.

Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, said the projects point to the increasing need for engineering talent.

“Interest by students in engineering and the need for graduates are both at an all-time high,” Plotkowski said. “Enrollment has more than doubled over the past 10 years, and employers indicate that we are still not meeting the growing demand.”

The university recently purchased the Ferris Coffee and Nut building on Winter Avenue in Grand Rapids to address the need for more educational engineering space. The space, the Design and Innovation Center, will support cooperative education and extensive project-based programs. The university is planning to move into the 63,385-square-foot facility in summer 2018.

Sponsors of this year’s senior projects included General Motors, Stryker, Cascade Engineering, DornerWorks, E3 Compliance, Gentex, Herman Miller, L-3, Adient, PADNOS, Hydro-Chem Systems, Koops, Tennant, Active Inspection and CWC.

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