The 2010 HR Challenge: Gearing Your Business Up for Olympic Success


With the 2010 Olympics rapidly approaching, business owners and managers are becoming increasingly aware that the Games present an intriguing array of Human Resource challenges (and opportunities). Even though the Games are only months away, an August 2009 survey by the BC Human Resource Management Association showed that 61% of respondents had either not begun to formulate their Olympics Policies or were still gathering information.

Some of the questions key leaders may now find themselves facing include:

  • How will our organization cope with the transit disruptions and traffic congestion during the Games?
  • How can we deal with requests for vacation time in a transparent, equitable manner?
  • What can we do now to protect ourselves from the negative impacts of employee absenteeism?
  • How can we keep overtime pay in check if we operate at reduced staff levels due to increased vacations?
  • What measures can we take to maintain productivity while still demonstrating Olympic spirit?
  • How can we protect against potential service disruptions from suppliers we rely on to operate our business?
  • What steps can we take now to manage client’s expectations?

We recommend addressing these questions and more by establishing and communicating an organization-wide “Olympics Policy”. The first step in developing workable policies is being crystal clear on potential challenges. While there are numerous decisions company leaders must make regarding the Games, firms will be off to a good start if they consider the following four “Olympic-Level Challenges”:

  1. Employee availability for work
  2. Productivity impacts
  3. Support of key suppliers
  4. Managing commitments to clients, client’s expectations and service delivery

Availability for Work – Availability of employees is a critical issue to address.
Many firms are grappling now with requests for vacation. What staffing levels do you need to run your business? Do you have enough “wiggle room” in case productivity levels decrease temporarily?

Travel and transit disruptions will also put businesses to the test. Suppose it takes employees an extra 2 hours to get to work. How can you ameliorate the impacts on productivity and attendance? School closures could also affect the availability for work of employees with young kids if these individuals are unable to arrange adequate child care.

What about employee’s attendance at Olympic events? If it will take 3 hours to travel to an evening event, a discussion with employees now could avoid unexpected “afternoon sick leave”. Sick leave could also increase if employers give so much vacation leave that remaining workers burn out from overtime.

There are no cookie cutter solutions to these challenges since each firm’s situation is different. However, the recent BCHRMA survey reveals that the most popular solutions are establishing flexible hours and telecommuting.

Productivity – The experience of other Olympic cities show it is near-impossible not to get caught up in the Olympic “buzz”. The Olympics offers a great opportunity for firms to build a feeling of community and teamwork. Some companies will allow access to television at work. Others may plan Olympic-themed social events. The key is to communicate to workers that while the Olympics should be fun, employees must still be productive for the business to succeed.

Suppliers – Firms are well-advised to draw up a Critical Supplier list including suppliers who are integral to the production and delivery of their product/service plus those who serve their day to day office requirements (e.g. couriers, external I.T. support etc.). Communicate with suppliers in advance to develop a plan to deal with Olympics-related challenges.

Clients – Firms may be wise to schedule product and service delivery to clients for well outside of the Olympic period (if possible). It is important to start managing commitments to clients now and setting expectations at a realistic level.

What’s the bottom line? Get your house in order now. The 2010 Winter Olympics presents businesses with significant HR challenges. Set your policies. Communicate with employees, suppliers and clients. The work you do now to prepare for 2010 will allow you to engage more fully in the Olympic Spirit when we let the games begin!

The Fifth Option Consulting Inc. (TFO) has a 20 year track record helping organizations run more profitably through effective human resource management. TFO offers clients a cost effective way to obtain strategic HR expertise, customized to their needs.