The World Cup in the workplace – an annoying problem or an opportunity for engagement?

Human Resources 30th May 2018

Will we be allowed home early to watch the England games?’

‘Will the boss let us have a TV in the ‘break room’?

‘I don’t like football.  Will I be allowed time off too?’

With the World Cup in Russia less than three weeks away, you might be thinking that these conversation threads will be heard at the workplace drink stations throughout the land.

Football in the UK is a popular as ever

Relax!  I have happy news.  You’ll be relieved to learn that such conversations, this time around, will scarcely be heard.  How can this be?  Have England’s perennial below-par performances so depressed the national psyche that interest in the ‘national game’ has declined to near-zero?  You might think so, but you’d be mistaken.  Statistics show that football in the UK is as popular as ever.

The reason for the lack of workplace footie chatter is simple.  The good people of FIFA have shown the utmost consideration in scheduling all England’s group games to be played outside normal office hours.  Even if the unheard of takes place and the Three Lions defy both historical precedence and common sense and progress through the knockout stages, England’s games will take place in the evenings.

There’s one exception – the game against Panama – set for a Saturday lunchtime.  So, the question of time off for watching the football does still apply, but it’s restricted to those who work in the evenings or on Saturdays or, perhaps, those who follow a team other than England.

£7.2 billion of lost productivity

But the issue hasn’t gone away.  The question of how to respond to the natural, healthy desire to follow a major sporting, political or royal occasion live on TV is still valid.  Hardly a year passes without a live event tempting your people away from their workplace duties.

Handle your staff wrong with the World Cup and similar events and your productivity could suffer … big time!  Here’s a scary stat – in the 2010 World Cup, it’s estimated that British productivity suffered to the tune of £7.2 billion!  This might have been because the tournament was held in South Africa, with negligible time difference.  So, when the games were on, workers were ‘off’.

An opportunity to inspire loyalty and long-term engagement

But what can we do to minimise the damage of these events to our bottom line?  We could start by a switch in attitude on our part – not treating these TV events as tiresome obstacles to productivity and profit.  Instead, how about thinking of them as an opportunity – a chance to motivate and to inspire long-term engagement and loyalty?  In other words, let’s think of them as a key part of our engagement strategy.

And there are so many different ways in which you can turn a potential negative into a great big positive.  Here are two ideas that involve allowing people time off work –

1. Install a TV – Depending on the size and nature of your premises, this could be in the staff canteen, in a break-out area, or at one end of the office.  Apply a few common-sense rules, such as making sure the volume isn’t excessive.  Make the experience fun.  Order in some pizza, crisps, drinks and ice creams.

2. Allow people time off to watch the event at a local pub or to leave work early, so they can enjoy it at home.

In each case, don’t be casual about how you make these arrangements.

• Plan ahead.  Explain what you have in mind, well before the event.
• If you’re going to ask them to make up the time, be absolutely clear.
• Explain that live streaming of the event to their PCs isn’t acceptable.  Either they join their workmates in a social group or they carry on with normal work.
• Think about re-allocation of tasks, lost productivity and how you’re going to make up for them.

Embrace the opportunity

Of course, if you don’t allow the football fans amongst your staff to watch the games that matter to them, you may well lose out.  They won’t be fully productive during the game.  They’ll be sneaking a look at the match on their devices.  So, you’ll lose out anyway.  Let’s face it – like it or not – many employees are going to watch the games that matter to them. So why not embrace the fact and make the most of it?

Then there are other ways of using big sporting events to bring your team together that don’t require people to take time off work –

3. How about making a social event of it?  For an evening football match, take your people to a pub to enjoy the game together.

4. Run a workplace sweepstake, whereby your staff pick a team from a hat

5. For this year’s World Cup, how about an evening ‘social’ – a football quiz night with Russian food and drink?

The benefits of these ideas are pretty much incalculable.  It doesn’t matter what ideas you come up with.  Any activity which brings your organization together and fosters relationships is surely a massive ‘win’.
Although the consequences of your touches of generosity can’t be measured, you will, in time, come to appreciate the benefits.  Wait till you have to call on your people to do a little extra – perhaps to stay on for an hour or two one evening.  Maybe to make an extra push to achieve a target, or to go the proverbial extra mile to impress a client.  That will be pay-back time.  That’s when you’ll realise that showing your human side, letting your staff see that you care, in the long run, always pays off.

Engage with your people and motivate them to be the best they can be.
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