Employee relations: How to deal with World Cup fever

With the World Cup just days away, new research shows just how much of a problem the event could be for employers.

According to a survey of almost 2,220 adults by pollster YouGov for HR information provider Croner, 13% have called in sick to watch a World Cup match, or to recover from match-related drinking the night before.

Even when they are at work, football-mad employees are likely to be distracted, discussing upcoming England games and checking scores online. Web-content filtering supplier Marshal predicts that the month-long World Cup will cost the average UK business £8,400 in lost productivity per 100 employees.

Experts are advising employers and HR departments to communicate their plans to their staff as early as possible.

Nicola Maine, director of government standards body Investors in People, said: “Staff resourcing is always an issue during major sporting tournaments, but some employers still seem to get taken by surprise.

“Managers need to talk openly with their staff in advance, understand their plans and aim to strike a balance between maintaining business as usual whilst also recognising that some employees will be struck by World Cup fever.”

Frozen food manufacturer Tryton Foods is taking this approach. The firm recognised that many members of staff will want to take days off, particularly when England are playing. So for the duration of the World Cup the company has removed the cap on the number of employees it allows to be off at the same time.

If staff are going to be off, then at least the company can plan in advance for it, according to Carol Fletcher, HR manager. “Production capacity will be affected by fewer employees working shifts, but we have a time and attendance system which will alert production managers to any shortfall in staff on certain days.:

Like many companies, Tryton will also allow staff to watch England matches on television in the staff canteen. Many of those companies do so unaware of the risks involved.

Frances Strickley, an employment specialist at law firm Thomas Eggar, offers this advice: “If employers intend to screen the matches they should check that they have a valid TV licence, ensure that they are in compliance with health and safety regulations, enforce alcohol and equal opportunities policies, and be aware that they could be held as vicariously liable for any employeeÕs offensive or racial comments during the match.”

These risks need to managed, but if handled correctly, the World Cup can b an opportunity to boost staff morale. Richard Smith, a director at Croner, said: “Rather than worry about employees being preoccupied with the World Cup on match days, think about how temporarily relaxing the rules can have positive returns for your business.”

Credit card company Capital One is one firm keen to embrace the opportunity that the tournament presents. It will show every match in its offices and call centres, but will only turn the sound up for England games. It will also run competitions throughout the tournament, giving away prizes that include a football signed by former England great Bobby Charlton, and a shirt signed by German legend Jurgen Klinsman.

On match days, employees will be permitted to wear their team’s shirts and the canteens will offer themed menus. Ian Lockhart, head of internal communications, said: “We want our staff to really feel a part of the World Cup action while they’re at work.”


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