Go for gold

The Olympic Games must be the most inspirational event to take place in the United Kingdom for a generation. Attention to the events is bound to be huge and that is only just getting underway.

In the meantime we all have businesses to run, clients to satisfy, people for whom we need to care. So how should employers respond to the understandable interest and corresponding risk of unplanned absence?

Where possible it may be better to “go with the flow” rather than seek to fight it. Examples of doing so might be to organise rotas so everyone gets a fair chance to watch events; employee who are not interested in sporting events may be willing to swap shifts; encourage pre-booked annual leave perhaps for particular events; even be prepared to allow staff to watch events on their PC (though if the programme is live you need a TV Licence!) with agreement to make up time later. At the same time beware of discriminating against employees who are not interested in sport by giving unbalanced concessions to those who are.

If you allow employees to watch events on their PCs, you might want to make sure first that your technology and broadband can cope with the streaming involved.

Where you decide against these steps, or if they don’t work, you might be faced with some unplanned and disruptive absence. “Return to work” interviews are an invaluable process for keeping on top of unplanned incidental absence. You could implement these informally and without warning so long as you are consistent and include all employees’ absences. The discussion should explore the reason for absence (which can be accepted readily in most cases) and the need for an employee to recognise their responsibility to be at work where this sense of responsibility might be in doubt. You can highlight the disruption caused by their absence so long as you don’t lay that on too heavily. Training supervisors and managers for holding these interviews can help them strike the right balance between understanding employees’ difficulties and communicating your expectations effectively.

Don’t suspend your normal attendance policy. If an employee has four absences in a twelve month period it is time for a more serious meeting and perhaps a medical report. Even three absences over the period of the Olympic Games would be a little suspicious; however it is crucial to treat all absence as genuine even if, to some extent, this is playing along with them. Keep in mind that intermittent absence, even if genuine, can be grounds for dismissal. In this respect, a step-by-step approach is essential so as to ensure any dismissal is fair. On the positive side, a step-by-step approach often remedies the problem!

Make sure that you communicate clearly in advance what your approach is going to be in respect of any arrangements you are prepared to make and in how you will deal with anyone who steps over the line!

Let’s hope that period of the Games proves to be a truly inspirational time and we all feel, employees and employers alike, that we want to “go for gold” at work as well as in supporting our teams.

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