Absence Ahead?

The countdown to London 2012 has begun (196 days in case you’re wondering) – but it seems as if the prospect of the Olympics is being greeted with apathy in a significant number of boardrooms.

If BT’s Race to the Line survey is to be believed, almost a third of businesses have no plans in place for dealing with disruption caused by the Games – even though the majority expect it will have some effect on their operations.

Staff absence is, of course, one of the main worries. The survey of 1,200 UK businesses (29 per cent of whom are based in London) suggests that 40 per cent are expecting problems with employee absence either because people want to watch the action or because they will have difficulty getting in to work.

Now travel is clearly going to be an issue for companies based in the capital or anywhere near the various Olympic sites. Steve Wheeler of London BT Business is quoted in Personnel Today as saying it will be akin to the impact caused by snow – only for eight weeks.

Research suggests that many of those directly affected are making plans to improve flexible working provision or where appropriate to bring in temporary staff. But I have to confess to a certain amount of scepticism about how significant absence levels are likely to be for businesses outside of the main affected areas.

Yes of course the Olympics coming to London is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of us – but dare I say it, not everyone is interested in sport. In fact, I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief that will ring out on the final day when it’s all over and the TV schedule returns to normal.

Thanks to advances in technology, those who are interested won’t actually have to feign illness anyway in order to watch the Beach Volleyball/Synchronised Swimming/400m Hurdles (delete according to your preference). Smart phones and video streaming will make it perfectly possible to keep at least one eye on the proceedings while at work – not that we would condone anything less than 100 per cent attention to the job at all times 😉

Of course if it gets to the final stages and there are some medals in the offing, there will be a rush for the office TV – but then the management, especially if they have any interest in building employee engagement – will probably be cheering Team GB on along with the rest of the staff.

So pretty much business as usual for many companies I suspect – and not much more disruption for those at a distance than was caused by say the World Cup.

What the survey does highlight, however, is the need for a fair and transparent policy for managing absence – not just during the Games but at all times. Employees need to be clear about the procedure for requesting leave, the criteria for granting (or not granting) it and to understand how any unauthorised absence will be dealt with. Sophisticated HR software now makes it much easier for businesses track and manage absence and spot any potential staffing shortfalls well ahead of time.

Yet more research this week suggests that these kind of open and fairly applied absence management policies are generally greatly appreciated by employees themselves. The initial findings of the ‘Sick Notes’ survey, conducted by Ellipse in conjunction with Professor Cary Cooper, show that effective absence management has a significant impact on the way individuals view their employer and on the ability of a business to attract and retain staff.

So what’s your view? Are predictions of increased staff absence during the games greatly exaggerated or will it be a genuine issue for employers?

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