Spotlight on… World Cup sickies

With next month’s World Cup fast approaching, employers need to think creatively about how they can embrace football fever without compromising their business.

Unauthorised absence during big spectator events is always a concern for HR. According to software company Active Health Partners, absence could increase by 20% for every England game.

For many organisations, the fixtures list shouldn’t cause too many problems. Most of England’s matches – in the opening round of the tournament, at least – should fall outside of the nine-to-five working day. That said, the UK’s multi-racial workforce means staff will be following other nations’ progress as well.

Performance could not only be affected by staff taking time off to watch matches, but also by leaving early to catch a 5pm start, ‘pulling sickies’ the morning after big games, and wasting time on the internet.

Be flexible

HR’s role in all this is to be as flexible as possible in accommodating enthusiasm for the World Cup, so that absence is planned for rather than unauthorised, says John Malley, joint managing director of employment law consultancy First Business Support.

“If you are not flexible, you won’t do an awful lot for workplace morale, and that will damage the business,” he says.

At a minimum, employers should allow as many people as possible to take holiday, advises Malley. Beyond that, companies should consider bringing televisions into the workplace for matches, and employers operating on a shift basis could allow shift swaps or modified start and finish times.

World Cup fever also provides an opportunity to bring a bit of fun into the workplace and show employees that they are valued, according to Richard Smith, employment services director at consultancy Croner.

“Can you screen the match in the workplace?” he asks. “Can you make an event of it by losing two hours of a shift, rather than losing half the people for a whole shift? If you think around it, I’m sure you’ll find ways to compromise to give employees something they value while keeping up performance.”

Acegate Manufacturing in Rochdale, for example, plans to transmit World Cup matches over its PA system to employees on the shop floor.

Late start

In addition, the organisation is allowing staff to work 10am to 6pm on the days following evening matches, instead of the usual 8am to 4.30pm. “Rather than having them not bother to come in, we’re giving them until 10 o’clock, and we’ll still get a day’s work,” says personnel manager Wendy Mee.

“We have highlighted the fact that any person absent or late the day after an evening match will have a return-to-work interview, and if we’re not happy with the reasons for absence we will take disciplinary action.”

Supermarket chain Asda is offering staff up to two weeks’ unpaid World Cup leave, shift-swapping and extended breaks. “We have unpaid leave offered on an ad-hoc basis anyway,” explains colleague relations adviser Keeley Cromwell.

The company also offered unpaid leave for Pope John Paul II’s funeral.

June and July could be the least productive months of 2006, but a creative approach and willingness to compromise could pay dividends in staff loyalty.

Stop the skivers

  • Bring televisions into the workplace and make an event of it. Two hours of everyone doing the bare minimum beats the headache of multiple unauthorised absences – and it’s a morale booster
  • Be flexible by allowing as many staff as possible to take paid or even unpaid leave to watch matches
  • Allow staff who work shifts to swap with colleagues, and consider modifying start and finish times around matches

Legal Q&A: World Cup absence

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