PREPARING FOR THE SUMMER — KEEPING THE WORKPLACE IN TOP SHAPE
As the warmer months are now upon us, and people start looking to the skies for some summer sunshine, employers may begin worrying about how to keep their workforce operating efficiently during this time. Below, we take a look at some of the key summer issues for employers and how to manage these effectively................
Managing holiday leave
With most employees looking to take a significant part of their annual leave during the summer months, the holiday diary may look a little busier than normal. Where employees have requested holiday in line with the internal holiday policy, and this has been previously approved, the key requirement for employers is to ensure holidays are managed properly.
It will be important for managers to plan for upcoming holidays and manage an employee’s workload while they’re on leave. If someone is covering the role, it will be essential for a smooth handover so that the covering employee understands what is required and feels comfortable with undertaking this work. Additional time should be planned in for a handover to be completed on the employee’s return, rather than expecting them to get straight back into their work without understanding what has happened in their absence. This will help to prevent important tasks being missed or follow-up tasks falling by the wayside.
Where conflicting leave requests are received, or a request cannot be approved in line with the internal policy, for example where the maximum amount of employees are already booked off, then managers should respond to the request in a timely manner confirming that this is refused. Explaining the reasons why, and referring to the holiday policy and the rules set out within this, will help to limit any potential issues regarding this decision.
Dealing with family emergencies
As extensive childcare arrangements are put in place by working parents, there is a greater likelihood that time off may be required where these arrangements break down. Managers need to understand the right to time off for dependants, a statutory right for unpaid leave to deal with emergency situations concerning their dependants, and how their internal policy applies to this time.
The law requires employees to contact their employer as soon as reasonably practicable to alert them to their time off, the reason for this and how long they believe will be needed. Recording this leave accurately will be crucial to ensure there is no detriment suffered by employees because they have exercised their right to this time off. Generally, time off for dependants will provide unpaid time off of one or two days as this will be the time needed to handle the emergency, although this will depend on the circumstances; therefore any additional time off will need to be discussed and agreed with the employee, such as taking short notice holiday or unpaid leave.
Summer dress codes
Once the temperatures start creeping up, the issue of formal dress codes is inevitably raised. While a suit and tie may be comfortable during the cooler months, commuting in professional attire and spending long days in a warmer office can result in employees challenging the normal clothing standards. If staff are uncomfortable this could have a detrimental impact on morale and productivity.
It is a business decision for employers to decide whether they will relax normal dress policies or introduce a stand-alone summer dress code that contains different rules. The overall aim behind the code itself will need to be maintained, such as having a professional image for customers or meeting brand requirements. Matters to consider include avoiding more stringent requirements on employees of one gender as this could be discriminatory on the grounds of sex, while health and safety requirements including appropriate footwear will need to be maintained. Including employees in the process to decide summer dress requirements can help employers introduce a policy which meets their needs and will be applied positively by the workforce.
Where the normal dress code is retained, managers should continue to enforce this. This means breaches of the code will be addressed, usually under the disciplinary procedure as an act of misconduct, with disciplinary sanctions imposed as are reasonable. Although this may cause employees to become disgruntled, failing to impose the policy during summertime could lead to issues of fairness and reasonableness when managers seek to enforce the rules at different times of the year.
The most uttered question on warmer days is usually “how hot does it have to be before I can be sent home?” There is no maximum workplace temperature set in UK legislation, although health and safety laws say that temperatures should remain reasonable based on the type of workplace and activities carried out. Therefore, indoor office temperatures will be classed as reasonable at a higher temperature than for those carrying out physical activities outdoors.
To ensure staff feel comfortable and their productivity is not being detrimentally affected by a warmer workplace, employers can proactively review their workplace temperatures to ensure these remain suitable for most employees. A simple complaint about overheating may lead to a formal grievance if this is not managed properly.
Warmer temperatures may affect some staff more than others. For example, women going through the menopause who may already be suffering with hot flushes may find their symptoms exacerbated by the hot weather. If a complaint is raised about overheating, it would be prudent to discuss this with the employee in confidence to see if any further support is needed.
Take steps to review air conditioning or cooling systems to ensure these are operating properly and, where possible, to resolve issues and evaluate whether individual measures, such as the provision of desk fans, may need to be taken.
With blue sky dazzling outside the office window, keeping employees on task and efficient can be hard work in summer.
Ensuring all employees are aware of their tasklists and any relevant deadlines will provide transparency over what is required of them. In addition, regular catch ups or meetings can help to check whether employees are on track and, if not, whether there are any issues which need managing. Certain workplaces may introduce incentives to have an element of competition and challenge around maintaining high work rates, in order to win an individual or team prize.
Showing employees that they are valued for their hard work is effective people management at any time, but can be especially welcomed during summer when they may be covering for others due to high levels of leave. Small acts, such as ice creams, cool drinks or early finishes to enjoy the summer sunshine, will show employees that their hard work is recognised and valued, helping keep them engaged and productive during this time.