06/05/2010

By Kevin Dougall, Managing Director, APHR Solutions

Just as we all thought that things could only get better from here on, the dark clouds of the recession have been replaced by invisible clouds of dust, that have brought much of Europe to a complete standstill.

It is not only the travelling public and the airlines that have suffered. Many businesses have been forced to cope without some of their employees; stuck on extended holidays around the World.

When the bedraggled holiday makers eventually get back to work, and their “war stories” have been told, what should be done about it? The response to this question will, more than likely, be as different and varied as the holiday resorts from which our fellow employees have returned.

Perhaps a more helpful question might be “what should a smart business do about it?”

I would suggest that they do absolutely nothing. Well, almost nothing. The volcanic eruption in Iceland is an Act of God, or force majeure as the insurance companies would prefer to call it; just to confuse us and avoid paying out on our holiday insurance policy. It is nobody’s fault, although in our increasingly strident blame culture, some might argue that God is ultimately responsible and should be sued, but that is a debate for another day. As such, we all have to bear the consequences as best we can.

It might be easy for an overzealous HR Manager to argue that the extended holiday should be seen as just that; and expect their colleague to deduct the time from their annual holiday entitlement. If you want to breed resentment amongst your colleagues, that is one of the best ways to handle the situation.

Talking about resentment, it might be the case that those who were left behind, and had to cover for their absent colleagues, might feel resentful towards both their colleagues and the business if there is no “punishment” meted out. One way of defusing that situation is firstly to explain that no one is at fault and that it would be unjust to “punish” someone for something that was totally out of their control. Their “punishment”, if one should call it that, is that the weary travellers have most likely incurred a living hell on their extended holiday, and their wallets will be that much thinner than they would otherwise have been. In all likelihood, they have come back to work in desperate need of another break to get rid of the stress.

Secondly, I would suggest that the business publicly acknowledges the Dunkirk spirit and thanks everyone for their patience, understanding and support during a particularly difficult and challenging time. Express gratitude that the weary travellers have returned safely and have a party to celebrate.

The smart business will see the situation as an opportunity to engender a strong sense of understanding and fair play; and an opportunity to bolster the team spirit within the business. Whatever the cost to the business of lost working days, it will be more than made up by a contented and motivated workforce. There will also be a sense of “well if we coped with that, we can cope with anything”.

Finally, if one was to choose to play hard ball and deduct the time from annual holiday entitlement, be prepared for your own volcanic eruption, not forgetting that, like a volcano, resentment burns fiercely well below the surface and you are only aware of it when it erupts uncontrollably. It goes on to adversely affect lots of people around it too.