World Cup fever: time off to watch games

With the football World Cup in South Africa kicking off in just a few weeks, employers are putting in place arrangements to accommodate staff wanting to view matches during work time. Nick Martindale reports.

According to a survey of 100 HR directors carried out by XpertHR, 63% of organisations have already made provisions for staff to watch World Cup matches, while a further 10% said they would allow arrangements to be made on a local level.

The most popular means of enabling staff to watch important games in terms of altering working practices was to allow flexible start and end times, cited by 67% of respondents. Other tactics adopted included offering extended lunch breaks (49%), considering late requests for annual leave (44%), and time in lieu (16%). Supermarket chain Asda, meanwhile, will allow staff to rearrange shifts altogether, provided they can find the appropriate level of cover.

When it came to laying on special facilities, 31% of respondents said they would show the games on TVs in communal rooms, 15% said they would do so in a dedicated staff room, 9% would make radios available, and 4% would allow employees to watch the game online.

One employer said they intended to permit staff to take time out to watch matches in a local pub and another said it would put a TV in a training room to ensure those who did not want to watch were not disturbed. Another planned to show matches in the staff canteen.


Some companies intend to turn such games into teambuilding events. One employer said it would make refreshments available to staff, while another said it would order pizza for those working during an England match.

“Employers are certainly keen to engage with staff during major sporting events but they don’t want to be too prescriptive,” says Noelle Murphy, editor at XpertHR and author of the report.

“Employers are also becoming more aware that not all employees will be interested in following England,” she adds. “There will be people from other countries that will want to follow their home teams as well, so if employers do put something in place, they need to make sure that other employees have the opportunity to get involved too.”

No arrangements

Some of the 37% of companies that hadn’t made any arrangements were from the public sector, says Murphy, while others said they had so many different shift patterns in place that it would be very difficult to come up with something that was fair for everyone.

In the public sector, 67% had no formal arrangements in place. “They may feel that it’s not an appropriate use of public money to facilitate people having time off to watch football matches,” suggests Murphy.

The World Cup: what every employer should know

Source: XpertHR

“With all the talk of cuts in the public sector, they’re much more aware of the public purse and being able to justify every penny, so they’re being ultra careful at the moment.”

The main motivation for accommodating staff wanting to watch the World Cup was to improve morale and ensure the business benefited from any positive trends associated with the tournament, with 85% believing this would be the case. A large majority (88%) also felt putting plans in place would minimise any negative impact.

A separate survey by the recruitment and consultancy firm Hudson also bore this out, with 60% of men and 52% of women claiming that when their team won it improved both their own motivation and team spirit.

“Employers see the World Cup very much as a positive and they want the morale or the boost to rub off on the business when the national team is doing well,” says Murphy.

The advent of technology is also forcing employers to make arrangements to accommodate requests to watch key games. “Having an update facility on your computer screen or listening to the radio on your computer makes it easier for employees to follow matches,” she says.

“It’s best if employers are aware of it and have some control over it.”


On the whole, organisations were relaxed about the potential for the World Cup to lead to disciplinary procedures or grievances, although more than half (54%) felt absenteeism increased during major tournaments.

“Only one in 10 felt grievances or disciplinaries would be required as a result of inappropriate behaviour caused by facilitating the viewing of a sporting event within the organisation,” says Murphy. “Putting televisions in communal areas or allowing people to start and finish earlier means they are taking more control over the process and as such means they’re less likely to be hit by disciplinary issues.”

Three organisations taking advantage of the World Cup

Firmdale Hotels

Staff working for Firmdale Hotels will be able to watch World Cup games by altering their working patterns, says HR director Mike Williams. This could involve taking an early lunch or adjusting break times.

Matches will be shown live in the staff canteen and then again later on in screening rooms usually rented out to guests as bespoke cinemas.

During the recorded viewings, the hotel chain will lay on popcorn and cup cakes decorated in the colours of the main teams. “We normally decorate the rooms in the team colours and put a bit of positive energy into it,” Williams says. “If you focus people on the positive elements, it staves off any tensions.”


Throughout the World Cup, energy company Centrica is running a penalty shoot-out competition for head office employees.

Each player in two teams of five will take five penalties against a goalkeeper in a knockout competition, with the winner progressing to the next round. Former Tottenham Hotspur and Argentina midfielder Ossie Ardiles made the draw for the teams at the start of May, and the final will be held on 8 July, followed by a barbecue and drinks.

“We operate as a flexible organisation and the World Cup is such a big event that it would not help morale and engagement to ignore the festivities,” says Olivia Fenton, HR manager for Centrica corporate centre. “We think that by embracing the tournament, we can gain from the community spirit generated.”

All World Cup games will be shown in staff cafés and restaurants throughout the tournament.

Westminster City Council

Westminster City Council is considering allowing staff to use flexible working procedures to store up time, which they could then ‘cash in’ to watch important games – as long as there is sufficient cover in place, says HR director Graham White.

The organisation is also prepared to be flexible when staff take lunch breaks and will set up televisions in meeting rooms and canteens to allow employees to watch important games.

“If handled well, this summer’s tournament is actually a golden opportunity for us to boost staff morale,” says White. “Sporting events bring social benefits to the workplace, forging bonds and bridging gaps between colleagues.”

But the HR team is also reminding managers that non-English staff must be afforded the same flexibility to watch their national teams and is aware of the need to keep some football-free areas for those not caught up in the World Cup, he adds.

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