Planning for the Olympics: what should HR be doing?

Planning for the Olympics: what should HR be doing?


Author: Kevin McCavish

The Olympic Games are six months away. While this will bring commercial opportunities for many businesses it could also create headaches for HR, and not just those teams dealing with staff in London.

The Olympic Games start on 27 July 2012 and run until 12 August 2012. The Paralympic Games start on 29 August 2012 and close on 9 September 2012.

There is likely to be severe travel disruption in both London and other locations where events are taking place. This will involve not only public transport but will also see road closures and parking restrictions.

If managed effectively the Olympics could be a cheap and easy way to boost staff morale and employee engagement; for example, employers could provide a big screen to show main events (such as the opening/closing ceremonies) on work premises.

The key to avoiding workplace conflict will be clear and early communication with employees to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them. Any special rules introduced must then be enforced consistently.

If your organisation has not already formulated a plan and appropriate policies they will need to do so sooner rather than later. The following business and HR issues may need to be considered:

  • How is your own business likely to be affected by the Games? Which departments might be particularly affected e.g. security, catering?
  • Could your business be indirectly affected e.g. if your supplies are coming from London or need to travel through it and are delayed by traffic disruption how will you manage this?
  • How are your staffing requirements likely to change during the Games e.g. do you anticipate increased demand due to high visitor numbers and increased footfall? Will you be changing your opening hours to capitalise on the business opportunities presented by the Olympics? 
  • Will you need to engage temporary workers or ask existing staff to work more/different hours? If so, do you have the contractual power in your employment contracts to do this or will this be voluntary? Will you offer some sort of incentive/bonus to existing staff to encourage buy-in? 
  • Will you allow an extra element of flexible working during the Games so that employees can swap shifts, take unpaid leave or temporarily change their hours? If so, how will you communicate this clearly to employees and ensure special arrangements are consistent across the organisation?
  • How will you treat requests for leave from employees who want to attend the Games (either as volunteers or spectators)? Will such employees be subject to your normal holiday policy or will you introduce a procedure specifically for the Olympics? Note that there is no legal obligation on employers to allow extra paid leave over and above normal holiday entitlement. ACAS have just issued Q & As for employers on managing volunteers.
  • How will you encourage employees to book any annual leave early to ensure that business needs can still be met?
  • Will the needs of the business allow you to accept all such requests? If not, on what basis will such leave requests be granted fairly e.g. first come/first served or ballot of all those who have requested leave?
  • Given the likely travel disruption, will you relax usual rules on lateness or will you allow employees to work more flexibly to accommodate potential problems?
  • Will you let everyone who wants to, work from home during the Olympics and if so, do you have the IT capacity to enable this or, will you need to manage when staff will be allowed to work at home?
  • How will you deal with employees who fail to show up for work and who you suspect maybe taking an unauthorised "duvet day" to watch the Games? It may be helpful to remind employees that "throwing a sickie" will be an unauthorised absence and may result in disciplinary action.
  • Be clear about what is acceptable absence. It may be helpful to issue special guidelines for employees to make clear that unauthorised absence will be treated as unpaid leave.
  • Employees may try and keep track of the Games via the internet, but if large numbers are doing so this could have implications for IT systems. Decide whether you are happy for employees to use your IT systems in this way or whether you will take a zero-tolerance approach.
  • Do you have the space to have a special screening room for certain events or will you allow staff to have TV/ radio on in the background? Consider the drawbacks of the latter - will staff find it too distracting and will it cause resentment among staff with no interest in the Games who are working harder to compensate for colleagues who do?
  • Remember that not all employees will be interested in the Games, and they should not be made to feel excluded if they do not want to get involved.

Further information

Lots of information on travel disruption is available for businesses at the official Olympics website: