With just over two months to go until the July 27 opening ceremony, London 2012 is already dominating the UK media. Businesses up and down the country are starting to make plans to deal with employee requests for time off, problems with getting into the office and the worry of staff taking ‘sickies’ in order to watch the Games.
But surely the Olympics don’t need to be bad news for business? After all, the Games are a forum for the best athletes in the world, those most committed to high performance in their respective fields. Can’t employers harness this spirit to inspire their people and enhance business performance?
The key will be to use the Olympics as an opportunity to involve employees in the organisation’s plans and activities before, during and after the Games.
For the many businesses actively playing a role in the Games through sponsorship or facilitation, this means effectively communicating all campaign activity internally as well as externally, so that employees are as involved as external stakeholders and feel invested in what the Games mean for their business.
For others, it means acknowledging the impact that the Games will have – whether it’s travel disruption for employees based in and around London or to the desire to watch events - and working with employees to address these issues. Working with your people in a constructive fashion is far more likely to keep motivation high and business disruption to a minimum.
As a simple example, showing ‘big ticket’ events on work premises demonstrates the kind of employer goodwill that keeps staff motivated – and reduces the complaining, absence and general dissatisfaction that might come with restricting access.
On a wider point, many businesses are considering more flexible working arrangements for employees. The recent announcement that civil servants will be allowed to work from home during the seven weeks of the Games has led some business leaders to claim that it sends out a “dangerous message that Britain would close down for almost two months”, and civil servants should remain at their desks for the duration.
Evidence from the many organisations that already use flexible working practices shows that working from home can be effective, but it takes more than a good supply of hob nobs and the odd ‘checking in’ email to keep energy levels up, and employees engaged. Employers need to strike a balance between too much contact and not enough; showing that they trust staff to complete their work, while ensuring that they don’t feel entirely cut off from the rest of the organisation.
It could be that greater acceptance of (and enthusiasm for) flexible working practices becomes one of the lasting legacies of the Olympics. The Games could provide businesses with an opportunity to invest in and test the effectiveness of flexible working technology and, in effect, the relationship and trust they have in their staff.
What is certain though is that companies who fail to proactively plan for the issues posed by the Games could well suffer as a result.