Countdown to the Olympics.. Nine months to go

Over the summer we encouraged organisations to start preparing ahead for holiday leave requests for the 2012 Olympics (click here to see HR E-briefing 518). Although it is still nearly nine months before "Olympic fever" takes over, employers who have not already done so may wish to apply their minds now to ensuring appropriate staffing levels leading up to and during the Games.

Maintaining staffing levels and productivity

The Games will run from 27 July until 12 August 2012, shortly followed by the Paralympic Games from 29 August to 9 September 2012. Whilst some events, such as the opening ceremony, will take place in the evenings, many, including medal prospect events for Team GB, occur during normal daytime working hours.

Whilst interest in the Olympics may not be universal, almost all employers are likely to encounter some issues next summer, such as over-demand for time off, maintaining staffing levels, inappropriate sickness absence or misuse of the internet at work. To a large extent many such issues are inter-linked. For example, how holiday requests have been and are being dealt with will reserve a degree of control over staffing levels to the employer. Even so, predicting staffing need now and how that might be resourced against a back drop of requests for holiday leave or even employees wishing to act as volunteers at the Games, should address potential staffing difficulties later on.

Issues to consider:

  • Assess staffing need: Do you anticipate business will increase? For example is your business involved in the hotel, catering or transport sectors, particularly if it is based in a location where Olympic events are due to take place? Or might your workloads reduce slightly, allowing your business greater staffing flexibility for the few weeks of the Games/ Paralympics? Is any one part of your business likely to be more affected than another?
  • Review current operation: Consider whether a change to current working patterns or arrangements might better suit existing clients whilst the Games are taking place, thereby allowing you to maintain existing business; for example, retailers or catering businesses may want to change or extend hours of opening. For those in cities hosting events, can business be conducted elsewhere or staff relocate to other offices temporarily (or it might be beneficial for some workers to work from home to avoid traffic congestion, for example)?. Could such change offer increased trade opportunity during the Games?
  • Check your employment contracts: Before you can assess properly possible options for changing working hours or working arrangements, it is essential that you are aware of any flexibility within the employment contracts of your staff (if any). For such changes to be lawful, even if only temporary in nature, they cannot be imposed unilaterally by the employer. Do your contracts allow for changes in role or location or do they permit over time, for example? If not and you perceive you may require such flexibility, might you be able to agree changes with staff? Or, is there anything else you can do to bring about the changes? How long will it take and what might it cost?
  • Check existing policies eg Flexible working: The importance of a clear and fairly applied holiday procedure was addressed in the previous briefing but other employment policies too are likely to come in to play in the context of staffing levels during the Games. In the event you expect staff time off during or around the Games to be limited, are there flexible working options you can employ which might allow staff to follow the Games but will still meet staffing needs? For example, early or later start or finish times to the working day, job-sharing or revised working patterns? Is home-working a feasible option? Think about how you will deal with any requests from staff for such arrangements. Will a pre-existing flexible working policy or home-working policy provide a suitable framework?
  • Asking more of your staff: If an increase in staffing levels will be needed or replacement cover sought for staff taking time off, how will this be met? Are there parts of the business which are less affected and might offer additional resource? Or, if hours of work of existing staff are likely to be extended, do your contracts already allow for this and how it will offered or be paid? As above, check existing contracts to see what is already possible? In any event, consult with staff, many of whom may be prepared to agree the changes.
  • Engaging temporary staff: Although only short term, the Games and Paralympic Games spanning a period of just 6 weeks,  if increased productivity is needed to meet demand, additional staff will need to be sourced and trained in readiness. Consider now where these will come from. Recruitment agencies will be under pressure, so enquiries should be made as early as possible. What terms will be offered and what will the cost be? If workers will be recruited from abroad are there any work permit issues that need to be considered in advance?  Timing is likely to be key, in terms of availability of staff as well as training opportunities. Those businesses which leave it late may find a lack of available or skilled staff and little opportunity for training.
  • Time off for volunteers: With some 700,00 volunteers (or "Game Makers" as they have been labelled) being recruited from around the country to support the Games, many employers may find some of their workers wish to be released temporarily for this purpose. The minimum commitment is 10 days but Game Makers will also attend at least three training sessions prior to the Games. Legally, staff wishing to volunteer have no right to time off to do so. Even so, the attraction for some is understandable. The recruitment process is well underway and all applicants should have received confirmation of whether they are accepted, rejected or are still awaiting interview by 31 December 2011. Employers, particularly those in cities in which Olympic events are taking place, will need to consider whether they will support staff wishing to take time off to volunteer.

Final comment

Businesses directly and indirectly involved in the Games, such as the Royal Mint which commenced production of the Olympic medals last week, will have addressed staffing issues many months ago. However, for the majority of employers, it is likely to prove difficult to predict with any certainty their staffing needs nine months before the Olympics, particularly if the question of time-off requests has not yet been addressed with staff.  Retaining flexibility will therefore be key and the most positive outcomes are likely to be achieved by employers who communicate with their staff over this and seek their buy-in to the needs of the business over the short period of the Games and Paralympics.

Employers ought not to forget also that staff may have different allegiances ie other than to Team GB (as well as none at all). Fairness of approach to all interests of staff will be vital to ensure business continues to operate as smoothly as possible during the six weeks of the Games but, more importantly still, for the future harmony and trust of its workforce.