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Summertime and the living ain’t easy. By Rob Lewis

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Summertime

The recent biblical flooding has sent employees packing to hotter climes for their holidays. But tempting as it is to let the summer sun go to your head, Rob Lewis finds out it is a time when HR needs to be on guard when managing staff.



Summertime and the living is easy – well, not if your living is HR. Torrential rain may be par for the course in the UK, but employees are also leaving themselves washed out in a desperate attempt to clear their in-trays before jetting off on holiday.

Recent research by Investors in People (IiP) shows that a week or two off is a stressful prospect for many British workers. Almost one in 10 felt guilty about going away in the first place. Over half reported working longer hours in the run-up to their vacation, while 49 per cent admitted that even when they had reached their destination, they couldn’t take their mind off the office.

“You want people who are going away to have a good break and come back rested and ready to go.”

Nicola Clark, director of marketing and communications, IiP

Nicola Clark, director of marketing and communications at IiP, believes it almost defeats the point of going on holiday in the first place, which is why she argues that HR should be taking time out to manage time out.

“You want people who are going away to have a good break and come back rested and ready to go,” she says. “It’s really important for managers to deal with it carefully, for those that are going away and those that aren’t. Over a quarter of those left behind said they felt more pressured, especially younger employees.”

Just say no

There are a number of things HR should be doing and none of them are especially complicated. After all, lastminute.com aside, annual leave doesn’t tend to be a surprise. The trick is to help people plan around each other, ensuring workload is routinely discussed with staff and that project planning takes into account the absence of key personnel.

If the pinch points can’t be avoided, then it’s time to take a look at the bigger picture. “Sometimes employers might have to say no to annual leave,” Clark explains. “It’s not necessarily a comfortable thing to do, so you have to be as clear as you can and say it as early as you can. Make sure the employee knows why they’re so important to the team.”

Holiday headaches

  • Almost one in 10 British workers feel guilty about taking a holiday

  • Over half reported working longer hours in the run-up to their vacation

  • 49 per cent of employees think about work while on holiday

Research by IiP

Another simple pointer is IT accessibility: make sure the person going away leaves all key documents on a central file and not in some inaccessible personal folder. “It’s obvious, but it’s happened to all of us,” Clark says.

Something else that is an apparent no-brainer is leaving instructions or updates about the job. When the IiP asked people what would make it easier to manage leave, clear and succinct hand-over notes came top of the list every time. It may be time-consuming, but managers should make sure they have all the information they need to avoid any crossed-wires or knowledge gaps should queries arise.

Lastly, make sure you say hello on the employee’s return. The IiP found 44 per cent of workers believed a simple ‘welcome back’ increased their motivation. Of course, this can be a little tricky to do when employees don’t come back on time. According to a recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry, unauthorised extensions to holidays were prevalent, especially on Mondays or Fridays.

What a difference a day makes

However things may look, the employer has to start with the assumption that all absence is genuine. A common mistake line managers make is to suddenly clamp down on one individual’s absence because the control of the overall situation has slipped away from them.

“It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” says Ben Wilmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “Because they’ve been letting things slide, they have to make a stand and so they shoot from the hip without having the necessary data. Short-term and recurrent absence needs to be tackled but it needs to be tackled systematically – and with effective triggers.”

Possibly more than any other time of the year, summertime shows why it is important for HR to have quality management information on absence levels to give line managers the ammunition they need. If you want to cut-down on unofficial long weekends without causing unnecessary trouble, you’re going to need a statistical approach.

Identifying trends or patterns in the figures will give you an impersonal context in which to talk about underlying causes and make it clear that anomalous behaviour is going on.

“Identifying a statistical pattern will allow you to approach the person objectively,” agrees Wilmott. “You need to have evidence to support having this kind of conversation, otherwise the person will simply say his absence is no worse than anyone else’s.”

“Short-term and recurrent absence needs to be tackled but it needs to be tackled systematically – and with effective triggers.”

Ben Wilmott, employee relations adviser, CIPD

CIPD figures show around 16 per cent of all absence is non-genuine, so don’t be surprised if it becomes an issue over the coming weeks. It might be a good time to suggest flexible working, if your organisation doesn’t already support it. Allowing individuals some choice in sorting out their own work-life balance is one of the most effective ways of dealing with short-term absences, Wilmott says.

For the employees left in the office, another topical issue for the summer is office temperature. While the Health and Safety Executive has a recommended range of temperatures, only the lower figure is legally binding. The upper limit of 30 degrees is entirely discretional.

“Working temperatures is an issue that always bubbles to the surface during the summer weeks. That’s when you get people shipping in air conditioners,” says David Coats, associate director at human resources publisher Croner. “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem this summer, though.”

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