Hurdles for business: workforce management during The Olympics

Don’t let the Olympics become a Greek tragedy for your business. TM looks at the challenge of workforce management for this unique sporting event.

Telecoms company BT is the official communications partner for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games taking place in London this summer. In addition to providing services to the event itself, BT has taken on responsibility for highlighting just how deep an impact these two events will have on the wider business community in the UK – both in terms of opportunity and potential risks. At the beginning of 2012 BT released a report titled Race to the line which surveyed around 1,200 UK companies across UK regions. This figure included 12% manufacturers.

Top among business concerns in the UK is the issue of workforce management – both in terms of deliberate absenteeism, reduced productivity or simple inability to get to work thanks to traffic disruption.

According to Race to the line 40% of companies anticipate problems allowing for extra time off requests, or with staff not being able to get to work. This number was slightly reduced among SME respondents, 33% of which said they were concerned about allowing for time off requests. Despite this level of concern, 30% of companies overall have no plans in place to protect against reduced staff numbers – among SME respondents this figure rose to 46%. Against this backdrop canvassed the opinions of manufacturers, and industry service and technology providers on the potential effect of London 2012 on their operations and asked what steps can be taken to mitigate business risk.

John Morris
John Morris

Q&A with John Morris, CEO of recruitment agency Jam Recruitment

TM: Are manufacturers prepared for Olympics-related workforce issues?

JM: The scarcity of talent in the UK is one of the biggest issues affecting UK manufacturers, but come July the scarcity of employees on the shop floor may seem like a more immediately pressing matter. The Olympics won’t just affect businesses in the South East, every employer should be preparing for employee absence and protecting productivity. We haven’t seen many of our manufacturing clients preparing yet.

TM: How can manufacturers protect against absenteeism or reduced performance during the Olympics?

JM: At the very least employers should be developing a strategy for managing employee absence. Drawing up a one page Olympics Policy, making company rules with regards to issues such as the treatment of Olympic volunteers and suspicious absences obvious is a good idea. As a minimum, employees should be encouraged to submit requests for annual leave now on a first come first served basis. If the nature of your business allows it, it may be worth managing shift working around employee preferences. Taking on additional staff to allow for peaks and troughs in workforce during the Games might be appropriate so employers should be ring-fencing budget for short term recruitment this summer.

TM: If manufacturers have no plans in place now, have they left it too late?

JM: Absenteeism during the Olympics will be unpredictable. While employers can legislate for those who have requested time off during the summer, how can they predict how many employees are likely to quietly ‘throw sickies’ during events where the UK team perhaps proves unexpectedly successful? The key to ensuring these uncontrollable absences don’t have a negative effect on your business is forward planning by ensuring you have a strategy and budget in place that will help you to mitigate the effects of absenteeism.

Simon Macpherson
Simon Macpherson, senior director operations EMEA at workforce management systems vendor, Kronos

Automatic for the people

Simon Macpherson, senior director operations EMEA at workforce management systems vendor, Kronos, says automating is the key to confidence in workforce management.

Those that have deployed real time workforce management solutions will be in a much better position to accommodate flexibility and allow for staff preferences for time off – within the realms of your production system.

Employee terminals in any good workforce management system will do more than simply log requests and record start and end times. They will act as employee information centres and will support the communication of company policy on the Olympics.

Kronos also captures productivity information for individuals and units and sets them against standards – so employers will be able to react quickly to any issues. We often see drops of forty per cent in ‘duvet day’ absenteeism after companies deploy our systems.

Implementation of our systems typically takes around three months – so companies we are not working with now have left it too late to expect protection from problems associated with the Olympics through adopting our technology. I stress though, that the benefits of automating workforce management are not only relevant during large sporting events and public holidays. If UK manufacturers want to be competitive then they have got to become more efficient – this includes the way in which they manage HR time as well as production itself.

Simon Beswick
Simon Beswick, senior partner specialising in HR at Eversheds LLP

Getting to know you

David Beswick, senior partner specialising in HR at Eversheds LLP, says employers should form employee stakeholder groups now so that the staff sporting preferences can be assessed and likely peaks and troughs in attentiveness forecast.

A number of our clients told us back before the start of the current holiday year, that they were setting up stakeholder committees to understand how they will work through the Olympics. As well as highlighting teams with shared sporting interests and potential related performance issues, these groups help to highlight important groups who are relatively uninterested and can be leveraged to flex working patterns or act as cover staff.

As long as planning for events like the Olympics – and Euro 2012 which takes place in June – is done in advance most people are happy with business policy decisions. Being ad hoc stirs up resentment. If you have trade unions in you workforce, make sure they are included in stakeholder discussions.

Keep calm and carry on

Denying the need to panic over business preparedness for the Olympics Chris Mulvihill, MD of EMS Manufacturing, based in Herne Bay, plays down the concerns of others in this piece.

We developed a policy during the last World Cup which we intend to use again during the Olympics. This states clearly that time off must be booked if individuals want to watch sporting events, and that anyone found absent without good reason will be disciplined.

Because there are no time differences to be taken into account with the Olympics however, and because there are potentially a lot of different events that might interest people, we have bought a TV license. This way there will be no temptation to stream events on desktop computers. We have enough projectors and screens on site to be able to satisfy a lot of tastes during breaks.

Frankly though, unless people have a particular penchant for gymnastics or diving and want to watch a lot of the qualifying rounds, I believe the finals for most high profile events are set for later in the day – so they shouldn’t disrupt our factory working time too badly.

I am prepared for shock success for the UK in a particular event however, or simply for higher than anticipated interest. I know it is a once in a lifetime opportunity for people to build an affinity with an international sporting event, which for us is being held no more than eighty miles up the road.

So I am prepared to be flexible. If we start getting a lot of requests for time off we will look at implementing extended working hours so that people can watch an event and make up the extra couple of hours at the end of the day.

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