‘Star Wars’ May Blast Productivity but Ultimately Boost the Force

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

If the office seems emptier than usual this Friday, it may be because some employees have gone off to a galaxy far, far away.

Take Mackenzie Wiltrout, who works for a Philadelphia advertising agency and has been a huge “Star Wars” fan for more than a decade. She’s sewn her own “Star Wars” costumes and once built a light saber from scratch using plumbing and other hardware store parts. Wiltrout wasn’t initially planning on taking time off to watch “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which officially premieres Dec. 15.

“Then my manager texted me the night tickets went on sale and said: ‘Just bought my tickets. You’re taking off, right?’” Wiltrout told Bloomberg Law. Wiltrout is taking a half-day off on Friday to watch the movie.

And she won’t be alone. Many more workers are expected to ask for scheduled or unscheduled leave in order to watch the next installment of the popular film series either Friday or at early midnight shows tonight.

That time off could potentially result in more than $1 billion in lost work productivity for employers, according to statistics provided to Bloomberg Law by Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

But that temporary hit to productivity could provide returns in the long-run for employee morale, engagement, and retention.

“As an employer, you will want to be lenient,” Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told Bloomberg Law.

“Star Wars” is a “major phenomenon” for many people, and company decisions that prevent workers from indulging in their interests can be “so costly in terms of employee morale,” Challenger said.

Lost Productivity Could Exceed $1 Billion

Challenger, Gray & Christmas didn’t have estimates of lost productivity ahead of “The Last Jedi” premiere. It did, however, have statistics for “Star Wars: Rogue One ,” the previous film in the franchise, which was released last year.For that premiere, the firm estimated that employed individuals who arrived late or left work early to see the movie collectively cost employers about $179.8 million for every hour of lost time.

“These are wages being paid to employees who are not being productive,” Challenger said.

If you assume all those employees took the entire day off, the collective cost to employers grows to $1.4 billion, according to the firm’s estimates.

The firm calculated the numbers using earnings from the Thursday and Friday premiere showings of “Rogue One ,” and dividing that figure by the average ticket price to get the number of individual tickets sold, a firm spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law. It then applied the employment-population ratio at the time to get a rough estimate of employed individuals, she said. Finally, it used the average hourly wage from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate how much it would cost an employer per hour or eight hours of lost time.

Even higher productivity losses could be in store for employers with “The Last Jedi” premiere, given that the movie is projected to out earn “Rogue One.”

Boost to Long-Term Employee Morale

Smaller companies with departments that may not have backup for employees who take leave to watch a movie premiere may feel a loss in productivity more keenly than a larger business, Challenger said.

But for the big picture, any estimated productivity lost because of a movie is “only going to be a blip in the amount of wages that get paid to employees per day across the country,” he said.

And for the long haul, allowing workers to take that time off can do wonders for employee morale.

“Employers are really fighting to retain and attract the most talented people out there,” Challenger said. “One of the best ways to do that is to create a good culture. Now, more than ever, that’s important.”

Wiltrout agreed.

“I like that my manager personally encourages us to take time for hobbies like this,” she said. “It strengthens my work-life balance and generally makes me feel more like myself in the workplace, which equates to added happiness in the office. Morale always boosts productivity.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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