Getting Ready for the OlympicsTuesday, February 7th, 2012
If you are competing, our advice is simple – just keep practising, and don’t bother with the rest of this article. But otherwise read on because although there should be a good deal to enjoy and hopefully much to celebrate, nevertheless these Olympics are likely to bring unusual problems for employers. A bit of thought and planning is therefore required. The main Games will open on Friday 27th July and close on Sunday 12th August; the Paralympics will run from Wednesday 29th August until Sunday 9th September.
A first consideration is to assess the likely behaviour of the customers you serve. Will they be affected directly by the Games? Will they close down for the duration? Will the service they expect from you be affected in any significant way? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you may feel it necessary to change the way you operate during the period, which in turn may impact on your employees.
Assuming, however, that you will be conducting your business as normal, recognise that employees’ absence requirements and behaviours are likely to change. Some may have tickets to attend the Games and therefore will know well in advance what time they would like off, some may discover an enthusiasm for sport in the few weeks leading up to the event, some may treat the period as one during which they can choose on each day whether or not to come to work, depending on who is competing, and some probably will be heartily sick of the Games even before they start. You probably have a selection of each. Two simple ways of dealing with the attendance issue are first to close down the business for the duration and insist that the time is taken as holiday, but this may give you problems if your contracts of employment do not give you this right. The second way is to insist that people take off any time as holiday and book it in the normal way, possibly on a first-come-first-served or length of service basis, but this is likely to encourage dishonesty among the disappointed. If you do prioritise holiday bookings, then it would seem fair to give precedence to people who have tickets for this rare event, perhaps on the basis that they show you their tickets not only when they book time off, but also the day before the absence in case they plan to sell the tickets.
The chances are that most of your employees will not have tickets for any of the events but nevertheless will wish to follow them closely. Fortunately today there are many television channels that will broadcast the Games live and also will transmit edited highlights at peak viewing times. In addition many people are able to programme recorders such that they can watch specific events at times that suit them. As a result there should be little pressure on you to grant time off for Games enthusiasts who will not in fact attend the events. Nevertheless your willingness to do so may be determined by the level of activity at which you expect your business to be operating. If it appears that business may be slack, then there is merit in allowing time off to as many people as request it. Consider also whether there may be some advantage in using people who have expressed complete disinterest in the Olympics to man the organisation, if appropriate by paying them a premium or lump sum to be more flexible than usual during the period.
Plan all this well ahead. If appropriate tell your employees that they may at short notice request the odd day off to watch particular events on television at home. If, for example, we have British competitors in an important final, you may get a sudden demand for time off so be prepared for this by determining the maximum number of employees you could release and what system you will adopt for selecting if the demand is too high. Ideally engage your employees in making these arrangements in order to gain their co-operation. Whatever you eventually decide, make sure that all your employees understand what they can and cannot do. Let them see clearly any concessions you are making, but emphasise that you will not tolerate unauthorised absences other than for sickness or other serious reasons, and that you will be asking searching questions if you suspect any such absences are not genuine.
Another problem you may have is people watching the Games on their computers or mobile phones when they should be working. This is not only wasting time but may also seriously affect the quality of their work. Ideally ban these activities outside break times. Bearing in mind that some people may wish to hear nothing at all about the Olympics while they are at work, nevertheless consider how you might keep the sporting majority up to date with important events. This would include any events in which Britain stood good chance of winning medals, though take care to cater for employees with other allegiances otherwise you might find yourself accused of race discrimination. And at a particularly sensitive time for the United Kingdom, take care not to start civil war by falling into the “Briton wins, Scotsman loses” trap! Consider giving hourly updates on your Tannoy system or Intranet, or have someone with a radio listen to the news on the hour, then phone any significant results to main departments.
A final problem that you may not recognise until the Games begin is transport in and aroundLondonand other event venues. Special lanes will be reserved for athletes and officials, though these may be opened to other users if congestion occurs. We just do not know, but you should prepare yourself for problems with some employees getting to work. For a limited period at least consider using flexi-time or have employees work more at home. Some may be able to take work home with them to avoid having to come in every day or to enable them to travel outside peak times. Urge employees to do what they can to work normally if that is what you need, but recognise that nobody will really know the transport problem until they are in it. A bit of understanding and generosity is likely to be needed on your part.
At the end of the day, if Great Britain does well in the medal tables and if the opening and closing ceremonies go well, we all of us are likely to be proud. Even if you yourself are not competing for Gold in the 100 metres you could still do your bit by adjusting your organisation’s activities as much as you reasonably can to help your employees’ enjoy this once in a lifetime event.