How do I balance employees’ understandable interest with the needs of the business?
You are not the first person to have asked me about this. World Cup fever is setting in around the country, right on the back of Royal Wedding fever. Even ACAS is on board and has issued advice to businesses, encouraging them to be flexible during major sporting events. It seems like a recipe for disruption and inefficiency for employers. Concerns include an increase in holiday requests, potential absenteeism and a downturn in productivity. However, it’s possible to minimise the impact of the tournament on your business and buy a decent slice of goodwill back from your workforce at the same time. All that’s required is a bit of careful planning.
Decide how to deal with additional holiday requests. Your normal policy is probably based on a first come first served basis, but how do you deal with holiday requests at other times of high demand, like Christmas? Do you ask employees to take turns? Be guided by your existing policies but do also consider how you can relax them, for example by requiring less notice than usual, if it doesn’t impact on work.
Being flexible might reduce both holiday requests and absenteeism. Could employees start early or leave late if there’s a match on? Could they take a late lunch or swap a shift with a colleague instead of taking holiday? As well as ensuring productivity doesn’t dip during the tournament, this might generate goodwill with your staff if they think you are trying to accommodate them.
Watching at work
All businesses are different so decide how far you are prepared to go to accommodate match watching. Can staff watch matches during breaks on existing screens in a canteen or meeting room? You might allow radio commentary or let staff to follow scores on work computers or their own devices. Can they go off site to watch as long as they make up the time the next day? Whatever you decide, be clear with staff about what is and isn’t acceptable.
Temporary policy or more informal rules?
It may be helpful to talk to your staff about what they want before you make any decisions. Once you have decided the rules, tell your staff. Some employers might welcome the security of a temporary ‘Tournament’ policy. Other workplaces might be happy to adopt a more informal approach, sending an email or memo about what accommodations will be made. Whatever method you use, remind staff that existing policies will also be relevant, such as absence management and disciplinary policies. Set out clear rules for taking time off and requesting flexible working. Make expectations about behaviour and normal work standards clear.
Potential yellow cards
Internet, social media and devices
What about employees who want to watch the match but don’t want to take annual leave or make up the time? These days, it’s all too easy to stream matches to phones or get updated scores in real time on the internet. If you have an IT policy already which governs the use of devices and social media then remind staff about those rules. If not, decide on appropriate rules and communicate them to staff.
There is an increased temptation to ‘pull a sicky’ during major sporting events, either to watch a match or recover from one. You should deal with sickness absence in the usual way during the tournament. Keep an eye on reasons for absence and any patterns of absence that occur immediately before or after major matches. Remind staff about your absence reporting procedures and return to work interviews. You could even modify your absence procedures by asking staff who are off sick to report to HR, rather than managers, during the tournament. This might act as a deterrent but also ensure that matters are dealt with consistently. And if you find out someone has pulled a sicky, use your disciplinary procedure.
Potential red cards
Discrimination and harassment
Remember that not everyone in your workplace will support England. Avoid any potential arguments about unfairness by applying the same rules about time off to people who support different nations.
Also be aware of the potential effect of ‘friendly’ banter if people are watching the matches at work. What one employee considers a jokey comment might make another employee feel harassed, especially if someone is making comments about people or players from different nations. Make it clear to employees at the outset that they are expected to behave in an appropriate way during work hours. Remind staff that your Equal Opportunities policy will continue to apply during matches.
Some employers are happy for staff to have a glass of wine over lunch but in some workplaces it’s a complete no-no. If you have a policy on drinking during office hours now is the time to reiterate it so staff are clear on the rules. There may be workplaces where drinking is a health and safety issue, so it is worth reminding staff that breaking the rules may result in disciplinary action.
Ultimately, whether an employee’s performance is affected during the World Cup, or at any time, is a question for their manager. Ask your managers to keep a close eye on performance and productivity during the tournament. Deal with low level disruption quickly. If people are standing around chatting for ages about last night’s match, deal with it as you would if they were standing around chatting about last night’s Bake Off. A quiet word can stop matters escalating. If someone is constantly on the internet checking scores rather than doing their work, pull them up on it. Similarly, if individual performance seems to be slipping, or someone isn’t getting through the same amount of work, have a chat to see what is affecting them. If you do notice a pattern of behaviour in the office, issue a reminder to all staff about maintaining performance and output.
If you can’t beat them, join them
An awful lot of goodwill can be won by being as flexible as possible during the World Cup. It is an event which can bring together people from different backgrounds and nations. Watching a match can become an accidental team building exercise. Organise a sweepstake, make arrangements to watch major matches in the conference room, maybe even put out some soft drinks and nibbles. This approach might well increase staff morale but also lessen the likelihood of lateness and absenteeism. The sad truth is that the national interest is unlikely to last beyond the group stages, at least for England supporters, and it will be business as usual again before too long.
- Talk to your staff to establish what flexibility they might want during the tournament;
- Work out what rules will apply and let all staff know about them well in advance;
- Remind staff about existing policies regarding use of IT, absence and potential disciplinary matters;
- Deal with all requests for time off or flexible hours on a fair and consistent basis to ensure no particular groups are disadvantaged;
- Be as flexible as possible if it doesn’t affect the business;
- Be clear with staff about both expectations and consequences and remind your managers to be on high alert so any issues can be nipped in the bud.
Remember you can find details of the matches here. The timings of most matches are favourable to a European audience.