Winter weatherEvery part of the year brings its challenges in terms of HR.  During the summer, you may be concerned about how you’re going to manage an influx of requests for annual leave. Then there’s sporting events that can cause havoc when it comes to getting your staff through the door and engaged with their roles.

Winter, of course, is no different, and there are many things that you’re likely to have to consider.

There’s also the very important matter of the weather. Most of us expect some wind and rain, and sometimes even snow, during this time of the year, and it’s true that it’s often a real inconvenience.

However when you’re a business owner, there’s a whole load of considerations that you need to make to ensure that any extreme conditions don’t bring your business to a grinding halt.

Nobody wants to be unfair to their staff or place unrealistic expectations on them, but the fact remains that if your workers don’t make it into the office, that could have a real and tangible hit on your productivity and bottom line.

So as with most things, preparation is key, and now is the time to ensure that you have robust policies in place to help you to deal with issues that could arise if the weather does take a turn for the worse.

So this week we’re going to cover what you really need to know, what your obligations are, and how you can make arrangements that will best serve your business and your workforce.

To pay or not to pay, that is the question 

Sometimes, weather conditions make it difficult to get into work. In many cases, just a sprinkling of snow can cause absolute havoc. Public transport may be cancelled or heavily delayed, and the road system seems to come to a grinding halt.

You might be wondering whether you’re obliged to pay your staff in these circumstances. The short answer here is no. If they can’t get to their usual place of work, you’re not required to pay them. It’s always a good idea to be reasonable though. There’s no point in laying down the law just for the sake of it, especially when the majority of your staff will do everything within their power to get to your premises on time.

You could allow workers to take the time out of any holiday allowance that they might have, for example. You might even be able to allow them to work from home. This can help to take away the issue of how you’ll manage payment, and it can also ensure that your business keeps up to date with work that needs to be carried out. Of course, whether this is realistic will depend on your operational requirements.

Consider business needs, but make sure that you’re also being fair. If it would usually take your staff half an hour to get to work, and the weather conditions mean that it will take over four hours, you need to use your common sense. Bear in mind that after traveling for so long in the low temperatures, your staff are very unlikely to be motivated and productive.

Have a policy and communicate it

Do you have a bad weather policy? If not, it could be worthwhile thinking about creating one. Many problems can be avoided by making sure that your staff know what’s to be expected, and what they need to do if the weather does prove to be an issue.

Of course, a policy is absolutely no use whatsoever if no one knows about it, or if it’s not implemented fairly and equally across all areas of the business.

Use your usual communication channels to bring staff up to speed on any changes, and always welcome any feedback.

As well, you need to make sure that your managers understand their role and responsibilities. Are they suitably equipped for dealing with questions, and implementing the provisions?

If you’ve had a policy in previous years that you feel is still fit for purpose, it could be worthwhile bringing your managers together for a refresher session, just so they feel up to date and confident with what is required of them.

Review your working from home arrangements (if you have any)

In a worst-case scenario, you might decide that working from home provides a viable solution that will help you to avoid any interruptions that could be detrimental to your business. Of course though, you need to make sure that you have processes in place that will make this option as effective as possible.

How will staff check-in with their managers and other team members? Are there any issues around handling sensitive or confidential information outside of the usual work setting? How will you ensure that standards are maintained?

Working from home can be a great solution to problems like bad weather, and there’s also a wide range of other benefits. Many employees will value the flexibility, and it can give them a better work-life balance. Don’t rule it out before giving it some careful thought.

Consider staff with children 

If the weather takes a turn for the worse, local schools may be closed. This could obviously lead to problems for parents in your workforce, so it’s worth thinking about how you’ll deal with this.

It’s completely reasonable for you to expect staff to keep you in the picture as much as possible.

Be mindful of the impact of colds and flu 

There’s a higher risk of employees contracting illnesses such as coughs and colds during the winter. This could lead to an increase in workers calling in sick.

Your staff should be aware of the systems you have in place to manage absence. Think about who they should contact if they can’t make it into the workplace, how they should stay in touch, and so on. Problems often occur due to simple misunderstandings, so make sure that you’re clear and concise with your communications.

You should also be mindful of what’s often known as ‘presenteeism’.

This basically refers instances in which employees turn up to the office, despite being too poorly to carry out their tasks.

This of course doesn’t help anyone, and it can actually worsen the situation if the illness is passed on to colleagues. This is just one of many reasons why you should exercise a level of sympathy and understanding, whilst also managing business requirements, when it comes to sickness absence.

Recognise potential mental health issues 

Mental health issues like depression can sometimes be more prevalent during the cold, dark winter months. As an employer, you need to be aware of this. Talking about such matters can be much harder than chatting with your staff about coughs and colds, but it’s vital that you’re aware of the implications of this and do all you can to support your staff.

If you suspect that a member of staff may be struggling, it may be worthwhile having an informal chat with them, away from the rest of the team, and just asking how they’re feeling. They won’t always open up, but showing that you’re there and that you’re concerned could make a difference.

This is a very complex matter, and if you don’t have the experience or knowledge required, it could be worth calling on a professional. It’s important you don’t get this wrong.

Carry out a review of on-site health and safety provisions 

Are your workplaces warm enough? Do you have a contingency plan in place if your heating systems break down? Do you have grit available in case pavements and pathways become slippery and potentially dangerous? Do you have someone who is able to deal with any minor injuries from trips and falls?

It’s time to consider everyday issues such as these. Being prepared is always key, so don’t leave anything to chance, or just assume that everything will work out fine.

There are many potential issues that can arise over the winter season, and it’s important that you take the time to anticipate what you might be dealing with.

If you follow our guidance outlined here, you’ll be in a great position for ensuring that you’ve done all you can.

Further questions about dealing with the winter weather this year?  If so give us a call for a no-obligation chat and let us help you weather the winter storm.