Solar eclipse coming with nearly $700 million tab for US employers

NEW YORK, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Add next week's total eclipse of the sun to the list of worker distractions that cost U.S. companies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity.

American employers will see at least $694 million in missing output for the roughly 20 minutes that outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates workers will take out of their workday on Monday, Aug. 21 to stretch their legs, head outside the office and gaze at the nearly two-and-a-half minute eclipse.

And 20 minutes is a conservative estimate, said Andy Challenger, vice president at the Chicago-based firm. Many people may take even longer to set up their telescopes or special viewing glasses, or simply take off for the day.

"There's very few people who are not going to walk outside when there's a celestial wonder happening above their heads to go out and view it," Challenger said, estimating that 87 million employees will be at work during the eclipse.

To get the overall figure of nearly $700 million, Challenger multiplied that by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest estimate for average hourly wages for all workers 16 and over. Just as the Earth is a mere speck in the universe, however, Challenger said this is still a small sum.

16 PHOTOS
States where you can see the total solar eclipse of 2017
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States where you can see the total solar eclipse of 2017

Salem's the first sizable U.S. city with a chance to catch the eclipse when it hits Oregon.

Source: NASA

The eclipse will hit residents in Idaho next, with an opportunity to see totality in Idaho Falls. In Boise? Drive north a bit for your chance at totality.

Source: NASA

The eclipse sweeps across most of Wyoming, with Casper perfectly placed along the center of the path -- which means the eclipse will last longer there than on the outer edges.

Source: NASA

In Montana, but don't want to leave the state to get your eclipse fix? Totality will be visible from a tiny sliver of the Southwest corner of the state, but it's probably easier to just drive all the way to Idaho or Wyoming instead.

Source: NASA

Plenty of Nebraskans will have the chance to catch totality -- as the moon's shadow passes from the northwest corner of the state to the southeast corner.

Source: NASA

Like Montana, the total eclipse path will scrape across the tiniest portion of Iowa, but again, your best bet will likely be to travel into a state to your south or west instead. 

Source: NASA

You can catch the total eclipse from Kansas too if you head up to the northeast corner.

Source: NASA

Folks in Kansas City will get to see the total eclipse in Missouri, along with those in Columbia as it heads southeast across the state. St. Louis residents might need to drive a bit to see the total show.

Source: NASA

Residents of southern Illinois will get a total eclipse treat too, but anyone north of Belleville will need to drive to catch the big sight.

Source: NASA

Most folks in southwest Kentucky will get a chance to see the moon's shadow too.

Source: NASA

The eclipse will sweep across a big swath of Tennessee next, hitting Nashville and sweeping between Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Source: NASA

The northeast corner of Georgia is in the eclipse's path too. 

Source: NASA

Only a handful of North Carolinians will be able to see the total eclipse from their homes, as it hits a tiny portion of the southwest corner of the state.

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

Check out the entire eclipse's path!

Source: NASA

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"Compared to the amount of wages being paid to an employee over a course of a year, it is very small," Challenger said. "It's not going to show up in any type of macroeconomic data."

It also pales when compared with the myriad other distractions in the modern workplace, such as the U.S. college basketball championship known as March Madness, the recent U.S. shopping phenomenon called Cyber Monday and the Monday after the Super Bowl.

During the opening week of March Madness, the firm estimated employers experienced $615 million per hour in lost productivity as people watched games and highlights, set up pool brackets and avidly tracked their standings rather than performed actual work. The Monday after the Super Bowl, meanwhile, resulted in an estimated $290 million in lost output for every 10 minutes of the workday spent by workers discussing the game or watching game highlights and re-runs of their favorite Super Bowl commercials. And Cyber Monday on the heels of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday at the start of the annual holiday shopping season resulted in $450 million in lost productivity for every 14 minutes spent shopping, not working.

Events like this are likely to have an outsized effect on smaller companies, Challenger said. When their workers are absent, small firms may not have sufficient coverage from coworkers, especially in the current tight labor market where it is hard to find skilled workers.

"When three or four people are missing from an office of 15, it's a lot more disruptive," Challenger said.

EVENT

AMOUNT IN LOST PRODUCTIVITY

Total Eclipse

$694 million for the 20 minutes it takes to go outside and watch the eclipse

Cyber Monday

$450 million for every 14 minutes spent shopping

March Madness

$615 million for each hour spent on March Madness activities

Super Bowl

$290 million for every 10 minutes lost discussing the game

Fantasy Football

$990 million for each hour of work time spent on Fantasy Football

(Reporting by Kimberly Chin; Editing by Dan Burns and Chris Reese)

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