I lived in Boston for many winters, shoveling out parking spaces and reserving them with plastic lawn chairs. This is probably just a Boston thing. Working late nights in local government was not conducive to getting a good parking spot, and one never (ever) took a spot that had been shoveled and reserved (via chair) by someone else. But that isn’t the kind of chair I am talking about.
I often hear early career department managers, and assistant managers in particular, talking about the importance of “chair time.” This type of chair is an opportunity for aspiring managers to gain executive experience, on-the-job training, and resume-building by acting in place of the manager – or sitting in “the chair.” I try to foster these opportunities in my own organization, but I often want to tell earlier career managers to take their time. The chair will be here, but the days of working without the burden of being the one in charge, once gone, are usually gone forever.
Snow days are a source of great stress for most people other than school-age children. When I was the parent of young children, the snow day notice was a source of dread. One of us would have to stay home – and we would enter into negotiations to see whose meeting was more important. Even worse was the early release day. When your children go to after school programs and there is an early release day, you need to pick them up long before the traditional 6:00 closing time. This entails leaving work and driving through the treacherous conditions that caused the early release in the first place. If you commute by train, you have limited options and high stress.
Snow days are also stressful for local government managers. In my view, the worst time to be occupying “the chair” is the night before a projected snow storm with a low degree of confidence in the projection. When the Governor calls a state of emergency the night before the storm it certainly makes it a lot easier to make closing decisions, but when you are the manager, you never really get to enjoy a snow day.
Don’t get me wrong – the school superintendents have the absolute worst job in this realm. But, there is also pressure on the local government manager. Should the Town Hall open? What about the Library? Is trash collection going to be on schedule? Who am I supposed to notify again? Do we still need “phone trees” or can we rely on employees and the public to check our website and social media? After all these years of making decision in a haphazard manner, I recently asked our staff to make a checklist for snow day decisions. Brilliant. I still have to get up at 4:30 a.m., but at least I don’t routinely forget a step. Or re-write – for the 50th time – the closure notice to be posted to the website.
I live about 16 miles from my office. During the peak of a storm, I am absolutely non-essential. In this day and age, any decision that I need to make can be done easily from my phone or laptop. And yet. It is impossible to curl up with a book when I know that so many of our Public Works, Police, and Fire employees are working in terrible conditions with little rest.
I am nowhere near ready to retire from local government. But I can picture in my mind a snow day when I make a second pot of coffee and a fire. Perhaps there is Netflix involved. And a chair. Just not “the Chair.”
How about you? Do you have a snow day story to tell? Let’s Practice – shovel at the ready.
8 thoughts on “The Snow Day and the Chair”
Chicago reserves shoveled parking spots with chairs too!
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I didn’t know that!
I keep telling people I’m looking forward to the first snowy day after retirement…but it will take some time not to wake up at 5 am to check on messages…and not worry about programs and staff.
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I totally agree.
I remember the lawn chair trick too. In Jamaica Plain one wild winter, I once saw a guy affix a barrel to his shoveled-out spot with a cement nail gun. I guess someone moved his chair!
And make the post-job chair a fairly comfy one. I’ve tended to go in the direction of making the decision early the previous evening. It’s not perfect by any stretch but I want employees to have more time to arrange their lives for the next day instead of waiting until 10pm or 11pm or else getting a call from me (or their department head) at 5am (we have a phone tree). The Library has a separate snow day policy, so the only buildings under my jurisdiction are the Town Hall and Council on Aging. Public safety and public works do their work.
Back when I started in Halifax in 1996, a “snow day” policy did not exist. Of course, I had to make a decision the first night of work (officially started on January 1; first work day was January 2; needed to get something organized for the storm on January 3). Then, a few days later, we had the “Blizzard of 1996”. Not any type of trial by fire given the amounts.
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I was hoping you would say you get used to the stress of snow days after a few years!
A check list is a great idea!
I will post a copy of the check list once it is final!