Rail strike will force businesses to work flexibly and avoid ‘presenteeism’

The Network Rail strike, which threatens nationwide commuter chaos next week, is a timely reminder to businesses to measure staff performance on output rather than succumb to ‘presenteeism’, HR professionals have said.

Rather than see staff waste hours struggling to get to work by train or on overcrowded roads next week, managers should give employees autonomy to work from home or flexibly to get the best out of them, according to HR experts.

The first national rail strike in 16 years is planned between 6-9 April next week, just after the Easter bank holiday, threatening to disrupt thousands of commuter journeys.

Roy Mark, former HR chief at DSGi Business, the owner of Dixons, told Personnel Today: “[The strike] is an opportunity for HR to emphasise the cost and service benefits of various forms of flexible working. We now have a greater range of technical solutions but still have some resistance from managers to their adoption, often due to ‘presenteeism’ still being how managers measure output.”

Mark, now managing director of HR consultancy Total HRM, added managers will have to adopt more flexible working practices in the year ahead. “Unfortunately I fear the changes required to respond to the recession mean more industrial action across 2010 is inevitable, particularly in the public sector.”

Adrian Farley, HR director at Strategic Thought Group, added: “Regardless of whether it is blizzards, swine flu or industrial action, it just underlines the importance of risk management in the modern business world to enable us to build contingencies and ensure business continuity. The fact is we are managers and stuff happens.”

Earlier this year, the snow and icy conditions caused several employees havoc on the roads and trains, with many opting to work from home or different working hours.


Is an employer required to pay employees who arrive late or do not arrive at all due to disruptions to public transport? 
If an employer closes its business because disrupted public transport prevents employees from attending work does it have to pay its employees? 
Can an employer require its employees to take holiday at a particular time?

Source: XpertHR

Stephen Hall, chief executive of consultancy Interim HR Practitioners, said his firm was already preparing for inevitable disruption next week. “My team have already talked with clients to agree contingency plans, including out-of-office meeting points, conference calls, and working from home with direct communications with key clients and stakeholders,” he said.

Yesterday, business groups warned some firms – who cannot rely on homeworking – may be forced to shut down for the week and impose unpaid leave on staff rather than face four days of lost productivity.

The TUC has previously urged employers not to dock pay of workers who cannot turn up through no fault of their own.

Meanwhile, other HR chiefs were angry that the strikes were set to go ahead.

Moira Brown, HR director at social care provider Care South, said: “The strike is likely to result in heated debate among other employees and employers who are trying to run their businesses at a tough economic time. The strike is unlikely to generate much sympathy from employees trying to get to work.”

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