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How to maintain productivity on Black Friday

There are ways to ensure minimal working time is lost and employees are aware of their obligations

Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving when Americans traditionally start their Christmas shopping), has become a growing phenomenon for UK workers seeking a bargain on their Christmas shopping. For employers, however, the build up and on-the-day flash deals can lead to a loss of focus and a negative impact on workplace productivity.

Many employers will see an increase in personal phone use as employees receive deals via email or need to access their shopping accounts throughout the day. While it’s likely that a mobile phone usage policy is in place employees may think they can 'get away with it' for one day a year. Even a few minutes spent looking at Black Friday deals will add up to a significant amount of time, and work, lost during the week.

To minimise this employers should remind their staff about the rules; sending out a memo or a copy of the mobile phone policy. Staff should be informed that anyone found using a mobile phone during working hours will be subject to disciplinary action as outlined in the policy.

As well as using personal phones, employees may utilise the company internet for browsing the sales. Again, a communication of the company’s rules around internet use will help reduce the impact on productivity. If you want to monitor internet use around this period, such as viewing which sites employees access via the company internet, you should ensure all staff are informed in advance that they may be monitored, how monitoring takes place and its extent. A monitoring policy will normally be sufficient. Failing to inform employees that their activities may be monitored creates a risk of breaching privacy rights.

Many sale-savvy employees will book time off work for the Black Friday savings period to allow them the best opportunity to grab a bargain. Those who haven’t planned ahead may now be resorting to calling in sick. While the obvious suspicion is that they are falsely claiming sickness to have a day at the sales, this may not always be the case and wrongly jumping to this conclusion could harm the employment relationship.

The employee will give a reason for their absence when they report it and a return to work meeting should be arranged on their first day back. This meeting provides an opportunity for the employer to ask the employee to explain their absence face-to-face and to check if there are any steps the employer can take to keep them in work. If the employee has lied over the phone they will find it more difficult to lie face-to-face. Where there is evidence that the employee was falsely claiming sickness absence – such as a change in story or witness evidence – formal action can be taken.

Although reiterating and properly implementing the company’s rules will, in most cases, limit a loss of productivity, employers may choose to operate more flexibly on Black Friday to allow employees the opportunity to take advantage of the sales. For example, if an employee knows a certain deal will be available at a particular time they could agree with their manager to take all or part of their normal breaks at this time. Not only will this ensure no working time is lost, it will also reduce the likelihood of employees falsely claiming sickness absence as they can be present at work and still grab a bargain.

Kate Palmer is head of advisory at Peninsula