Managing your team during a heatwave

Wednesday July 13, 2022

It may be mid-week, but it’s not yet mid-heatwave.

Temperatures are expected to peak on Monday, with some areas of the country feeling a maximum of 30 degrees.

Sunnier days and lighter evenings are great mood boosters, prompting the urge to get outside and be sociable. That is, until it becomes uncomfortably hot, resulting in fatigue and a mad dash for electric fans.

We’ve been here before, many times, but somehow we still manage to be surprised during a heatwave. Phrases like: “I can’t believe how hot it is”, “you’ve caught the sun!” or “they’ve run out of ice cream!” will be doing the rounds, and almost everybody will be seeking ways to keep cool.

Bar supermarkets and offices with a super air-conditioning system, most workplaces aren’t exempt from feeling the heat. Even the ones that can keep cool may require a stuffy commute to work.

Is it legally too hot to work?

Is an employee quizzing you on how hot it needs to be before they get sent home? It’s important to know what the law says about working in heat.

The law gives a minimum working temperature of 17.5 degrees, or 16 degrees if employees are doing physical work, but there is no maximum. This is because certain workplaces, such as factories, may be extremely hot by design but can still be made safe with protective equipment.

During working hours, the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be reasonable and you do have a responsibility for keeping this at a comfortable level.

Tips to keep your team cool

To keep your team working well, we have some tips to help you manage during a heatwave:

Relax your dress code – Being uncomfortable in the heat can be a real distraction. A quick win to increase comfort during a heatwave is to relax your workplace dress code. Better that the guidance comes from you before employees take it upon themselves to switch up their style in the office.

Airflow – If you have air-con, great! If you don’t, keep windows open if you can and have some fans going to help maintain a regular airflow.

Just remember to weight or store any important papers to stop them from blowing around.

Hydration – Adequate drinking water should be made available, and it can help to remind staff of the importance of staying hydrated. If you don’t have one, consider bringing in a water cooler.

Flexible working – Allowing staff to come in a little earlier or later may help them avoid a busy and stifling commute, and thus show up fresh faced and prepared for work.

Hybrid working – If you operate a hybrid working model, consider allowing staff to work from home during the heatwave, so that they can better manage their comfort.

Outside workers – If you have employees working outside, it could be necessary to reschedule work to avoid the hottest parts of the day.

Ice creams – If you’ve got the budget for it, bringing the team a selection of ice creams at the end of the week is a small gesture likely to be well received. Don’t forget dietary needs like dairy free, though.

Managing absences in a heatwave

If you are under pressure and fearing a flurry of “sick days” as some employees might be tempted to head for the beach to “recover” or engineer a long weekend to take advantage of the weather, it might be useful to have an early team meeting or internal communication along the lines of “we know the heat wave is expected, but we are really under pressure to get XYZ done, and could really use a focus from all staff to attend work and avoid absences unless totally necessary.

Following the above, you hopefully won’t have any heat related sickness absence. If you do though, make sure employees follow the usual procedures for reporting their absence. On their return they should be interviewed and if you’re concerned about summer sickies, you can investigate further.

You may well get a surge of legitimate holiday requests too, as people want to get out and enjoy the sun. If you receive requests that clash, be fair and consistent in your decisions.

Breeze through your HR

If people problems in your business are rising like the temperature, contact us for HR support, tailored to your business needs.

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