Olympics can kick-start new benefits

If you read nothing else, read this:

  • Employers can motivate and engage employees by aligning benefits and reward strategies with London 2012.
  • They can implement a business plan that allows staff to take holiday or work flexibly.
  • Putting in an office TV or allowing staff to stream events live on their computers is a simple way of bringing the Olympics into the office.


The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games can be the focus for a variety of reward and benefits initiatives

Once the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games have run through the UK, their legacy will be more than just the regeneration of east London, transport improvements and the creation of new jobs. There should also be an enduring sense of national pride, a greater appreciation of community involvement, and an incentive for all Britons to become more physically active.

Employers can ensure this legacy is reflected in their own organisation by harnessing the Olympic spirit to engage and motivate employees, and incorporate this momentous event into benefits and reward strategies.

Tessa Jowell, shadow minister for the Olympics, says: “Employers can motivate their staff to get involved in some way in 2012 which is relevant to the business, which reaches out to the community, and which stretches their employees to do more than they would otherwise.”

Jowell encourages all employers to run an Olympic-inspired project, be it volunteering in the local community, creating work experience opportunities for young people, or taking part in a sporting challenge to raise money for charity. “It is every business saying, ‘we can do more, we can stretch out of our comfort zone’,” she says.

Gold, silver and bronze

Olympic projects can also take the form of more traditional benefits and reward schemes, such as aligning London 2012 with a share scheme’s maturity, using a theme of gold, silver and bronze medals in a recognition programme, or focusing on health and wellbeing perks. Dr Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, says: “We ought to use the Olympics to motivate and engage staff. Employers can say, ‘we do not mind you taking some time off to watch an event, but people who perform well during the games will receive rewards’, say a special gold, silver and bronze incentive.”

Stuart Hyland, UK head of reward consulting at Hay Group, says employers can also be creative and use the Olympic theme to have a bit of fun in the workplace, such as creating an Olympic challenge on an exercise bike or rowing machine. “How long would it take to run or row a mile?” he says. “Something like that could create a bit of goodwill and camaraderie in the workplace during the run-up or during the event itself.”

Sponsoring organisations are already weaving their Olympic involvement into their 2012 benefits and reward strategies. For example, staff at law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer can enter a draw to win free tickets, attend engagement presentations with the firm’s three sponsored athletes, and tour the London 2012 sites. Sainsbury’s staff can volunteer at the games, while Lloyds TSB’s employees were offered a chance to carry the Olympic flame in the torch relay.

Michael Rose, director at Rewards Consulting, says: “Organisations with some degree of sponsorship have the opportunity to access events more cheaply and easily. They are typically already looking at the extent to which they can provide opportunities for their staff.”

Business booklet

The Planning information for businesses booklet issued by the London 2012 organisation is designed to help UK employers prepare for the Olympics, which will be held at 37 venues, 27 of which are in London. Transport issues, staff absences and general distraction are among the challenges facing UK employers.

Employees may want to take some leave during the games to volunteer or watch the events, so employers could consider offering flexible working arrangements for staff, whether that is home working, basing them at different office locations, or amending start and finish times. Rose says: “The critical thing is thinking carefully about staggering start times, allowing staff greater flexibility, encouraging people to take holiday, and really considering the minimum amount of people [employers] need in the office.”

Flexible working

Flexible working practices could be one of the lasting legacies of the Olympics. Danny Bowerin, London 2012 sponsorship manager at Deloitte, says: “It would make sense for many organisations to use the games as a pilot to test some things they may consider doing longer term. It is a period of time that requires flexibility, not just in the planning stage, but in agility of thinking and action.”

In sectors such as hospitality, employers will find it difficult to allow staff to take holiday during the games. Such organisations can incorporate time off into an incentive or recognition scheme, aligning it with the games while managing workplace absence. Adrian Duncan, new business director at P&MM, says: “The reward could be time off in that period plus a widescreen TV to watch the event on, or membership of a gym. It is a way to minimise the impact of absence.”

If an employer cannot offer flexible working or holidays, another way to help staff make it into the workplace is by offering a bikes-for-work scheme. This is an ideal way to avoid public transport while promoting the Olympic message of physical fitness and wellbeing. Paul Bartlett, head of reward at Grass Roots, adds: “We are talking about how employers can promote bikes for work around the idea that it will help people through the travel chaos.”

Cooper says employers should ask staff what they would like to do during the games. “Put the question to them. We have the Olympics coming to London – how do we embrace it? How can it help our business? How will it help us engage more? Employees will come up with some novel ideas. Make it a team effort. Engage employees in decisions about what should happen, and then embrace it.”

Proactive approach

Employers can take a proactive approach to the Olympics by running an extensive staff survey around plans for London 2012, asking whether they intend to take holiday, would prefer to work from home, or will be attending the games. Deloitte’s Bowerin adds: “Build a big picture centrally, and then work from that as the basis for resourcing, policies, staff engagement and communication.”

London 2012 has launched a campaign, Keep on running, which offers employers detailed advice and support. London 2012 is also offering advisers and workshops to help some organisations with their games-time travel plans. “There has to be a lot of honour and trust,” says Jowell. “Employers that give their staff a degree of latitude should, in return, expect to be repaid in the same measure.”

Events such as the 2010 World Cup and previous Olympics have tested UK workplaces, but spectator interest is likely to be much greater this time. Rewards Consulting’s Rose says: “[For] the World Cup and other big events, a lot of organisations put a TV in the office and encouraged staff to attend. But in the past, the timing of events has meant staff came into the office very early to watch and have breakfast together, or stayed late and had some drinks. With the Olympics being in the UK, it is going to come at us all day.”

Infusing the workplace with an Olympic theme can also be extended beyond the business day. Hay Group’s Hyland says: “There could be events after work to pick up the theme and try to get employees’ spirits up. The Olympics coming to London can create a short-term boost to morale and motivation in the workplace, so it would be a shame not to try to do something positive with it.” Lancaster University’s Cooper adds: “The engagement is about getting staff into the games rather than preventing the games from coming into the office.”

London 2012 is likely to be the last time the Olympics will be in the UK for generations, so employers should embrace it and incorporate the Olympic spirit into reward strategies to create a legacy for years to come.

Beware of Olympic copyright

Copyright restrictions on the Olympics brand mean employers will have to get creative when communicating related perks. Paul Bartlett, head of reward at Grass Roots, says: “A lot of employers want to tie in incentive schemes or benefits promotions to the Olympics, but there are concerns around copyright breaches.”

Shadow Olympics minister Tessa Jowell says employers can look into the Inspire theMark programme, which allows organisations delivering projects and events genuinely inspired by London 2012 to apply to have them recognised. “They would be able to show the London 2012 symbol but without the Olympic rings,” says Jowell.


Cases study: London Overground on track with Olympic benefits

London Overground Railway Operations, run on behalf of Transport for London, will be heavily affected by the Olympic and Paralympic Games because it runs trains into Stratford.

Darren Hockaday, HR director at London Overground, says: “We know there could be 800,000 extra people in London during the Olympics, and 80% of them are going to be using rail.”

The firm has negotiated a deal with trade unions to offer its 1,000 front-line staff pay at time and a quarter during the games. “In effect, we are incentivising employees not to take leave,” says Hockaday. “However, if they have tickets, we will let them go to watch the games.”

An additional 200 office-based staff, including managers and those from HR, IT, and finance departments, will have the opportunity to volunteer at stations. These staff will receive a one-off lump sum payment of £250 if they volunteer during the Olympics and the same if they do so during the Paralympics.


Case study: Cisco ring-fences engagement

Cisco, the official network infrastructure provider for London 2012, has created an employee engagement programme that covers four areas – fun, pride, health and wellbeing, and global awareness – known as the Olympic Rings.

The four rings will comprise 12 initiatives, which are open to Cisco’s 2,500 staff in the UK and Ireland. These include a ‘Fit for the future’ programme which offers a series of wellbeing workshops and videos, roadshows with healthcare providers, and charity runs; ‘Bring your kids to work’ days featuring the Olympic mascots and themed events for staff and their children; and the ‘Big picture’ programme, where employees across the globe can submit photos of themselves to be screened in the Olympic Park.

Phoebe Leet, head of HR for UK and Ireland at Cisco,says: “We have created a programme that really aims to engage all employees.”


Case study: McDonald’s staff to serve at Olympic Park

McDonald’s Restaurants is the official restaurant of London 2012 and the presenting partner of its Games Makers volunteer programme. The restaurant chain will have four restaurants in the Olympic Park, staffed by 1,900 employees. To determine which of its 85,000 UK staff will work at the park, McDonald’s held its Olympic Champion Crew Member competition in 2011.

Each UK store selected a monthly best crew member, who received Olympic-themed prizes, such as t-shirts, wristbands and pin badges. In November, all 6,000 monthly winners came together to compete for a place at the Olympic Games.

The winners, selected in December, will stay at London’s Lancaster Gate Hotel during the games. There will be teambuilding activities, free tickets to Olympic events, lounge areas and games zones.

Jez Langhorn, vice-president of people at McDonald’s Restaurants, says: “The Champion Crew programme has been open to every employee. During the Olympics, there will continue to be Olympic merchandise for our monthly winners and staff in the hotel can blog and communicate with stores around the country.”