While the Health and Safety Executive specifies a minimum temperature, they unhelpfully don’t specify a maximum and simply suggest that the temperature needs to be ‘reasonable’. As we all know, one person’s idea of reasonable may be different from someone else’s so the first thing we need to do is consider how to support staff to find the middle ground. If you have control over turning on and off your air con and find that staff can’t agree on this, don’t be tempted to take on their battle or solve the issue, they are the ones that need to find a reasonable compromise here and your focus should be on supporting them to do this.
It is likely that you have a reasonable expectation in other areas of your work that staff will be collaborative and respectful of each other, don’t forget this if you find yourself the referee in an air conditioning battle. Encourage and expect staff to understand that the office is an environment where all staff need to work comfortably and it is necessary to find a temperature that works for everyone, a refusal to collaborate in something like this is no different to refusals for any other reasonable management request.
If you don’t work in an office with air conditioning (or perhaps even if you do!), prolonged periods of hot weather can also take its toll on productivity and motivation as staff slowly melt. Now to some extent, there has to be a degree of consideration that where working conditions are difficult a reduction in productivity will occur, and the advantage of considering this is that you can then take steps to mitigate the impact of this. For example, one thing that may help cool people down and focus is relaxing your normal dress code. Of course, the extent that this can be relaxed depends on the work you do, the role of your staff and the expectations of your customers/clients and of course any health and safety considerations but if you are able to relax things the key things are:
- be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable as a minimum and the reasons for these standards
- be consistent and ensure that, where you cannot be consistent, you do not discriminate.
- Communicate clearly any objective reasons why expectations on some staff are different to others.
Where staff understand the full and reasonable justifications for your dress code standards they are more likely to comply.
Finding other ways to cool the office is also important, consider investing in some fans to place around the office and encourage staff to turn off electrical equipment such as photocopiers, printers and even PC’s when they are not being used – especially in a small office space with restricted ventilation.
Temperature aside, summer can also bring other challenges. Many of these relate to competing requests for time off, the all too familiar cancelled flights home from holiday or disrupted public transport as the network struggles and perhaps even an increase in staff absence for weekend shifts during barbeque season! At all times of the year a clear leave policy is essential, and as with all aspects of the employment relationship, clear expectations and reasonable support and work life balance is beneficial:
- Consider your annual leave provision or access to flexible working where you can.Giving staff a more generous entitlement to leave and encouraging them to work flexibly can be a relatively inexpensive benefit that can have a huge impact on engagement, commitment and productivity and has been evidenced to decrease absence rates.
- Encourage staff to plan their leave early in the year and discuss their plans with their team;
- Ensure that leave booking is brought into regular line management conversations to ensure that leave is planned and staff are considering the pinch points or peaks and troughs in their workload
- Ensure that the same staff are not always left holding the fort, particularly those without children.
- Set out clear notice for booked leave provisions to reduce the number of short notice requests;
- Ensure that basis on which leave requests are reviewed and accepted is clear and fair (e.g. first come, first served) but encourage collaboration and discussion among staff where there can be flexibility and leave swapping to benefit everyone;
- Remember that being flexible with staff gets you flexibility in return and that although there is no obligation to grant staff specific dates off work or approve requests that will leave you in the lurch, it is important and it pays to be fair and reasonable;
- Set clear expectations in advance so that where staff are delayed on holiday they will expect to be required to provide evidence from their travel provider (e.g. flight details, delay information, a medical certificate), this should apply to all staff in all situations;
- Consistently investigate all instances of unauthorised leave (including late return from leave), and deal with this through your disciplinary procedures.Always consider any mitigation and evidence offered but do this within the procedure rather than accepting it on face value.
Finally, why not consider little inexpensive perks that show staff your appreciation for their commitment, ice cream Friday’s or Monday’s, lunch time or after-work team picnics and encouraging staff to leave the office and catch some sun on their breaks can give a little boost to perk everyone up and get them through the day.
In relation to temperature and leave, we need to be prepared for the fact that it is not always going to be possible to accommodate everyone’s needs all of the time, but the bottom line is that staff get paid to work all year round! Don’t compromise your expectations for quality but accept when this is hard to deliver. Recognise staff for sticking with it and remember that reasonableness, empathy, fairness, and consistency go a long way to engaging staff who stay motivated even in the toughest conditions, and ensuring that relationships will stay sunny even when the rain returns and we all go back to being cold and wet!