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HR and the Olympics: Have you got a plan in place?

For two weeks this summer, the UK is set to be overtaken by 'Olympics fever', and the city of London is set to be, well, overrun. Back in January, HR Magazine reported that 71% of businesses are not ready for the Olympics – in other words, they don't know what they'll do if people decide to take leave during the Olympics. In fact, 71% claimed not to have a leave-and-absence plan.

That said, things are starting to move, and 2 in 5 private employers now have a flexible working plan in place for the Olympics, which allows London-based employees to at least move their working hours around, or work at home during the Olympics.

This stretches beyond what HR professionals have become adept at dealing with. For example, a World Cup or a European Championship often presents an absence problem – either through simply watching the matches during working hours, or not coming into work the next day due to a hangover. The Olympics being in the UK provides an altogether different set of problems:

  • Does your business need to increase staffing levels to cope with extra demand? There will be an influx of visitors just for the games – if you provide any essential services, have you 'flexed up' for the fortnight and the week beforehand?
  • How are you treating requests from employees to attend the games, or watch them on TV? You have no legal obligation to accept such requests, but may want to view this as an exception.
  • Are you providing a room for viewing the games during working hours? If so, what is acceptable use and how will you manage the drawbacks?
  • Have you reminded employees of absence policies ahead of the Games? Be clear about what is acceptable and what is not – and what may result in disciplinary action.

As an employer, you will need to alert line managers to the possibility that they will be facing resourcing problems during the summer, in addition to the traditional workforce management that they will be used to. They should be advised to get their teams together and ask for agreement on who takes holiday – and when. You don't necessarily have the right to request that nobody be absent on a particular day or for a particular period, but you do have the right to ask for reasonable requests.

You may need to give priority to those who have bought tickets over those who want to watch the games on TV. 

If you are providing facilities to view the games, you need to draw up guidelines for staff usage, ensuring that employees understand there is acceptable usage – and unacceptable usage. Monitoring this is an altogether different question, and you will have to rely upon your line managers in this case.

On the flipside, of course, the Olympics can provide a huge morale boost to the nation, especially if we're doing well! By providing employees with a means to view the Games – within acceptable and reasonable limits – you won't be seen as a "nanny employer", and they'll be able to focus better on their work when they've seen the events they wanted to see.

So perhaps that's the best way to see it – be prepared, and you shall reap the reward!


About the author: Gareth Cartman blogs frequently about HR and workplace issues, and currently works with Ceridian, a leading global HR and Payroll provider