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Are you ready for the Olympics?

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With the London Olympic and Paralympic Games now less than 6 months away businesses are being urged by the organisers to put in place measures for coping with the challenges which could arise during the Games.  According to Deloittes in a report last year following a survey, over two thirds of UK businesses expected the Games to have virtually no impact on their ability to operate as usual and had no plans for dealing with the potential disruption or any employee relations issues which may occur.  However, in a survey in January this year, Deloittes found that most businesses have now assessed or intend to assess the impact the Games will have.  So, what should employers be doing in this regard and what, if any measures, should they be taking?

Location and travel disruption
The Games are likely to have the most impact on businesses based near travel hotspots and competition venues.  As 27 out of 37 of these are in London businesses based there will be the most affected by any travel disruption.  Transport for London and Deloittes are advising employers to prepare for significantly increased commuting times as a result of an estimated influx of an additional 2 million people using public transport combined with road closures and travel restrictions.  It is predicted that Friday 3 August 2012 will be the busiest day and will see an extra 3 million trips on top of the usual 3.5 million trips a day on the London Underground alone.  That is without taking into account bus and rail journeys.  Transport for London has admitted that it needs a 30% drop in commuters to reduce waiting times for transport.

Therefore businesses are being encouraged to increase the availability of flexible/home working, or where this is not possible asking commuters to use different routes or change the way they travel such as walking or cycling to work instead if they live near enough.  Employers are being asked to allow employees who live further away to stagger their journey times to avoid the busiest periods, work remotely and use video conferencing for meetings.  However, it should also be remembered that the Games are taking place during the school holidays, a time which is traditionally quieter on the roads and public transport of London and its commuter belt, and so there will be a natural reduction in the number of commuters in any event.

Businesses outside London near competition venues such as Eton Dorney and Weymouth and Portland or any of the Football competition stadia also need to consider whether travel will be disrupted and how to deal with it along similar lines. 

Employee relations
One thing is certain however, and that is all businesses, regardless of location, need to decide sooner rather than later if the Games will impact on them, and if so, how they wish to manage this, whether in terms of managing holiday/time off requests, performance/misconduct issues or absenteeism.   Employers must be clear about what they expect of employees during the Games to help avoid problems and deal effectively with any issues which do arise.

Managing requests for holiday/time off during the Games, whether to attend them, volunteer at them or simply to watch at home, is likely to be an issue particularly if large numbers of staff want to take holidays at the same time.  Employers should establish how they will deal with this fairly and in a non-discriminatory manner depending on the size of the organisation e.g. first come, first served or by taking names out of a hat and encourage employees to put in their holiday requests early.  Also remember there will be some employees who are not interested at all in the Games and may want to go on holiday to escape all the fuss!  Their requests should receive equal consideration.

Employers should also consider reducing potential absenteeism by screening popular/major events at work, which has the added benefit of helping to team build and foster good industrial relations.

Performance issues may arise in view of the delays to journeys resulting in less productive time at work and employers should consider how they wish to deal with this perhaps considering allowing  flexible working or home-working where this is likely to be a significant problem. 

If there is evidence of misconduct for example, employees phoning in sick when the employer suspects they want to watch or attend the Games, this should be investigated and dealt with under the disciplinary procedure in the normal way.  Similarly, any issues arising from employees watching events on the internet at work instead of working should also be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure.   However, clear guidance from the employer on what it expects in this regard will be important.

Practical steps
Businesses will obviously need to plan depending on what is appropriate for them depending on location, size, the nature of the business and the number of employees.  Although many employers may consider the Games will not have a significant impact on them, it is worth in any event considering some of the following steps:- 

  • Encouraging employees to put in holiday requests early and establish how these will be dealt with including for those who want to get away from it all!
  • Ensure employees are informed and, where appropriate, consulted on what is expected of them during the Games particularly during popular events taking place in working hours and remind them about relevant policies in the staff handbook.
  • Due to anticipated increased security risks ensure crisis management/disaster recovery plans are in place and that these are tested and reviewed in the run-up to the Games.  Ensure that emergency contact details of key staff and contact information for all staff is updated and circulated.
  • Consider whether there will be any issues over staff availability in relation particular projects or seasonal demand and plan for this in terms of recruitment or the need to engage temporary staff.
  • For businesses located in or around London and those near competition venues look at:
  • Maximising the potential for as many key employees as possible to be able to work at home, ensuring that the IT systems can cope with large numbers of employees working remotely if this becomes necessary and put in place/update policies on flexible working/home working.
  • Exploring options for other methods of communication rather than attending face-to-face meetings e.g. video conferencing, using webcams, telephone conferences where travel times to meetings are likely to be increased.
  • Considering alternatives to remote working such as encouraging different methods of travel by introducing bicycle storage facilities and showers and incentivise employees with cycle-to-work schemes.

Useful information from the organisers and the Deloittes reports can be found:

http://www.london2012.com/documents/business/preparing-your-business-for-the-games.pdf

ACAS has also produced guidance on what employers need to do now to plan for the Olympics

http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3392

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