February 6

2012 . . . a summer of absenteeism?

With the Olympics descending on London this summer, employers should plan ahead to minimise the risks posed by abnormally high demand for holiday, absenteeism and travel disruption around London and the other Olympic venues.

According to a recent survey of 1,200 organisations conducted by BT, the general view of the Games is positive, but the report also found that just under a third of respondents, 29%, had yet to make even the most basic preparations for the Games.

If you have not already done so, now is the time to start preparing your organisation for the Olympics. With 100 days of travel disruption expected in London – from the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations at the beginning of June to the close of the Paralympic Games in September – employees are likely to face disruption to their journeys to and from work, especially if travelling at peak times. Some organisations are considering altering working hours or introducing temporary flexible working over this period.

The risk of absenteeism is also high, as indicated by a recent survey which found that as many as 1 in 6 employees would consider pulling a ‘sickie’ to watch the Games. Employees should be reminded of the Company’s policy on absenteeism and make it clear what behaviour will be considered acceptable. State clearly that unauthorised absences from work will be investigated as a disciplinary offence.

You are also likely to experience a higher than usual demand for leave over the period of the Games and an effective system will be required to deal with competing requests fairly – whilst still ensuring employers have adequate staffing levels to conduct their business over the Games. Employers may choose to develop a specific holiday policy for the Games with leave authorised subject to business need, by random selection or on a first come first served basis. An employer who is flexible and permits employees to watch key events at work may help to minimise unplanned absences.

You could also consider introducing temporary flexible working measures, such as allowing employees to work through lunch, leave early, modify start and finish times, or allow shift workers to swap shifts. You will, however, need to consider the consequences of offering preferential treatment to Olympic and Paralympic fans compared to other employees who have made unsuccessful flexible working requests in the past.

With many employees having spent considerable sums on tickets, they should be encouraged to submit their holiday requests as early as possible to avoid disappointment. A further 1 million tickets to the Games will be going on sale in April 2012. If you are unable to authorise any further holiday this should be clearly communicated to employees before the ticket ballots open to avoid employees buying tickets they will be unable to use – especially as they are non-transferable!