Photo: lazyllama/

Thursday 28th July 2016

Lines in the sand

Eight tips on delivering your policy for the Olympics

Sports enthusiasts are having the time of their lives. With the Euros 2016 having just finished, the Olympic Games in Rio are now around the corner. Starting on 5 August until 21 August, the nation will be gripped again.

It’s a wonder anyone is able to get any work done – and this is precisely the worry of many businesses. They are (once again) potentially facing a largely absent workforce, be it physically or simply because people will spend much of their working day glued to their mobile devices or computers, watching the games.

Unlike the Euros, where there was only one England game which took place during office hours, Rio is four hours behind us, so coverage of the games will start late morning and go on until the early hours. Temptation will be there for workers for much of their working day, for over a fortnight.

Aside from the challenges of managing a distracted workforce, businesses will also need to work hard to ensure that their IT systems are not overloaded from excessive streaming. This has historically been a big problem for businesses during sporting events and can be extremely costly in terms of online sales. Cybercrime is also rife at these times, when systems are vulnerable, and there is likely to be a surge in hacking and phishing attacks.

So what should you be doing as an employer? Crack the whip and ban staff from watching the Olympic Games at work? (Is this even really achievable?). Or get on board with it all and join in the fun?

I advise the following.

1. Decide the company line on the matter and be clear about it. Circulate this to all. There is no need to have a detailed 10 page policy on the Olympics – just a simple memo that goes around to the workforce that confirms the business line is fine.

2. Apply the policy consistently and be very careful not to discriminate against anyone.

3. Apply the policy equally amongst all types of workers – including night and shift workers.

4. Set boundaries. Fundamentally employees are paid to work not watch sport. Ideally, they should be expected to make up the time. This negates arguments from non-sport lovers, and also those who feel less fairly treated because they’ve had to work throughout the games.

5. Make clear that any sudden illnesses will be looked into carefully and fit notes may be requested even for short absences. This will be a good deterrent if nothing else. Anyone who is caught falsifying an illness will be subject to disciplinary action.

6. For those allowed to work from home, let them know that you will be expecting the normal levels of output from them. Keep an eye on their productivity levels but perhaps allow them flexibility as to what time of day they are logged on. If they choose to rise early so that they have delivered their tasks for the day by midday, then fine.

7. If you are allowing employees time out to watch the Olympic Games, let them know that this is done in good faith and you expect the same courtesy. They should not abuse this by suddenly trying to stream every game on their iPhones or on the internet. There should be a clear policy on this, and the disciplinary consequences of any breach.

8. Think about putting up screens in communal areas and using the Games as an opportunity to come together and build morale. Again, be clear that this does not mean coming to work to watch television all day. It is not to be abused, and any time away from the desk will need to be made up.

In short, most employers are savvy enough to see the benefits in finding a happy medium. A zero tolerance attitude is neither practicable nor attractive. It is likely to result in a surge of sickies or employees rebelling and finding another way to watch the sport.

Equally, being too liberal about it and trying too hard to be the “coolest employer in the World” is likely to backfire. Not everyone is into sport, and those left behind to pick up the slack will not be happy.

A clear, consistent policy that embraces the spirit of the Games will ensure the whole workforce is inspired by the three values of the Olympic Games – friendship, respect and excellence.


About the author

Anita Rai

Anita is an employment partner at Winckworth Sherwood. She advises across the spectrum of employment issues to start-ups, global subsidiaries and listed companies, as well as senior executives and founders.