Don’t drop the productivity ball during big sporting events

Major sporting events often generate excitement and bring people together. They can also create challenges for employers. Various authors and publications have addressed the issue of lost productivity during major sporting events. A 2018 Bloomberg article published on Fortune’s website estimated that “$14.5 billion in gross domestic product worldwide could be at risk in the first two weeks” of the World Cup.

While the same article cited a paper that demonstrated “watching soccer can affect a fan’s happiness an hour before kickoff and up to three hours after the game” and research that suggested happiness can boost productivity by between 10% and 12%, the article concluded that there would likely be “a net drag on productivity.”

A ctvnews.ca article published during the 2014 World Cup referenced an estimate that the U.K. economy lost “some $7.3 billion during the 2010 World Cup” and said “American companies lost an estimated $121 million in productivity” during the same event. In addition to the productivity issue, the article noted that many businesses struggle with slow connections from streaming traffic.

The day after a significant game can also be problematic. Another article published by Yahoo Finance before this year’s Super Bowl reported on the results of a survey commissioned by OfficeTeam (a division of staffing company Robert Half) that “found that 37% of respondents said they knew someone who had called in sick or made an excuse to skip work the day after a major sporting event” and a different “questionnaire to senior managers” that found that “46 per cent said calling [in] sick the day [after an event] was the most distracting behaviour when it came to how sporting events impacted the workplace.” According to the article, the survey found that the second most distracting behaviour was a two-way tie, at 18%, between “spending too much time talking about sports” and “showing up the day after tired.”

Can your workplace join the party?

Some employers may decide to embrace certain sporting events by allowing for flexible work schedules or even arranging office watch parties. Such events can be viewed as an opportunity for team building and can increase morale.

However, that option is not practical or possible for all employers. Many employers have productivity benchmarks that are not relaxed because of an Olympic hockey final. Many other employers operate in safety-sensitive environments that could be negatively affected by a distracted employee or employees showing up under the weather. So what are such employers to do?

As a starting point, they may want to consider reviewing and reminding their employees of the organization’s expectations and policies for workplace attendance and technology use as well as the consequences of breaching any such rules or policies. Employers may also want to consider reviewing their organization’s drug and alcohol policy ahead of major sporting events that could disrupt the workplace, especially if the employer operates in a safety-sensitive workplace.

It could also be a good opportunity for employers to consider whether their rules and policies provide the right tools to maintain productivity and safety around events that may disrupt the workplace. For example, in what circumstances can you ask for a sick note from an absent employee? Even more importantly, what company protocols detect workers who may be impaired? With respect to technology use, are employees permitted to stream on office computers or use mobile devices in the workplace?  Relatedly, what policies monitor computer use? Employers need to amend policies that have gaps in these areas while being mindful of privacy, human rights and labour relations issues.

The bottom line is that there is no single “one size fits all” approach for employers, and each workplace must find a balance between leveraging the fun that can come from widespread interest in a sporting event with the productivity and safety needs of the business. 

Andrew Nicholl is an associate with Roper Greyell who practises in the areas of management-labour relations and employment law. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.