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Janine Milne

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Let the Games commence – But make sure you plan for them


Love them or loathe them, with the Olympics bang on our doorstep, the Games can’t be ignored. 

Travel disruption and staffing issues will all play havoc with normal working days, particularly for those organisations and workers in and around the capital and other Olympic venues.
Demand for holiday leave and increased absenteeism will affect businesses across the country as people volunteer or simply stay home and watch events on TV.
So what can be done to minimise the impact of all of this? The first step is simply to acknowledge that action has to be taken.
But, if you haven’t done anything yet, you are in good company. Research by Olympics sponsor BT revealed that almost a third of companies were still unprepared for the Games, despite the fact that a huge 93% expect to be affected in some way.
Steve Girdler, director of the London 2012 partnership at recruitment agency Adecco, believes, for instance, that staffing could prove to be a major issue.
“We’ve been talking to companies for the last two years about the need to ramp up,” he says. “While we are in economic difficulties, there is still a finite number of people out there and if you don’t plan, you will be fishing from an ever decreasing pool.”
And there’s also no guarantee that existing workers will be happy to take on an increased workload. At the end of January, for example, union bosses rejected a £500 bonus on behalf of 14,000 staff London Underground workers, claiming that it was not an “adequate reward” for the extra work required. Drivers had already received a £1,200 payment for changes to their shifts.
But those employers that do plan for the Olympics effectively should be able to reap the rewards. BT Global Services’ research into the impact of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games revealed that those businesses that prepared for the event saw a significant boost in revenues.
Business impact
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has also estimated, meanwhile, that the Games will give a much-needed £1 billion boost to the economy.
From an HR perspective, however, the Olympics are, at the very least, likely to generate an increase in holiday requests – but there are no firm and fixed rules about how to handle the issue.
Instead it is up to individual organisations to decide whether they allocate holiday on a first-come-first-served basis; leave it up to individual managers; have a ballot or request personnel give longer notice than usual in order to facilitate planning. For some, the answer may even be to cancel leave altogether.
But there is also the question of volunteering. Should volunteers take annual leave, unpaid holiday or, in some cases, not be given the time off at all? The key, whatever the decision, is to be transparent, consistent and fair.
Phoebe Leet, head of HR for UK and Ireland at technology company Cisco, explains: “It’s about having very clear policies. If people are nominated as volunteers by Locog [the Games organisers], then you need to have clear polices as to whether this is paid holiday or not and where it sits in your business cycle.”
It is also important to analyse the impact that the Olympics is likely to have on the business itself and on sales – not only directly, but also in terms of its effect on the wider supply chain. If it turns out that there will be little direct impact, then employers should think about whether they can survive on merely a skeleton staff for a few weeks.
One of the best potential weapons against absenteeism, on the other hand, is to allow people to watch the Games at work – a lesson that many firms have already learned from the UK’s participation in previous events such as football’s World Cup. It is better to have people on site watching an event for a short while than have them throw a ‘sickie’ and take the whole day off.
Moreover, time away from the coalface should not necessarily be viewed negatively. It could instead be a great way to boost morale (much needed in today’s economic climate) and create a greater sense of community.
Raimonda Kiausaite, HR manager at SilverDoor, says that, two years ago during the World Cup, the serviced apartment provider feared a performance problem, but got round it by having all of the football matches screened on TV during the working day. It intends to do the same during the Olympics.
Advance planning
“We trust our employees to look upon it as background viewing rather than two weeks of TV,” she explains. “I am sure there will be usual debates about what games and events take priority, but I think this will contribute to a good office atmosphere rather than give cause for concern. It is also a great way of encouraging interaction between the different nationalities that we have working in the office."
Another advantage of setting up TV screens is that it discourages people from trying to access their favourite sport from their desktop PC, which is likely to cause serious bandwidth problems for the unprepared. Organisations either need to ensure that they have enough bandwidth in place to cope, create an IT policy that prevents staff from accessing live streaming events from their desktops or find another solution altogether.
Clearly one of the biggest problems that everyone expects to face during the Games, however, is transport – something that is a nightmare for London commuters at the best of times.
For those travelling in and around the capital, one of the most welcome nuggets of advice came from London’s Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy. He suggested that people “go for a beer” after work and during peak times in order to reduce congestion and waiting times at key busy stations.
Ironically, one of the best times to travel will be during one of the big events themselves as people will either be glued to the TV, their desktop or installed at the venue itself.
Therefore, checking event timetables will help both individuals and companies alike in creating a plan of action. Other common sense suggestions include staggering the working day so that not everyone has to travel at peak times; using alternative offices or walking and cycling where practical.
From an HR perspective, meanwhile, it will be necessary to decide what your approach to lateness should be – will you relax the rules and, if not, what affect is this likely to have on staff morale?
In some instances, personnel may be able to work from home. But decisions around working in this way will need to be made now in order to determine which roles should be eligible, how many people will be required on-site and what enabling technology will be required.
Although it is currently difficult to forecast the level of disruption that UK businesses will experience this summer, by reviewing policies and planning for the worst, employers should be able to avoid the worst of the problems – so that, when the time comes, they can (hopefully) just sit back and watch the UK’s gold medals roll in.