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World Cup Fever – the million dollar disease

With the World Cup upon us, should employers try to ban or embrace the costly distraction?

It’s almost here and for me, like other football tragics, work will soon become something that just eats into my FIFA World Cup time.

For a sport-obsessed nation such as Australia, it’s appropriate to ask the question of whether employees keeping one eye on the ball instead of the field of work are commiting a foul and should be shown a yellow card. (OK, enough of the soccer puns).

Whatever your particular sporting passion, is there a price paid in lost productivity? (OK, OK, enough alliteration.) That is, how much work time is lost to distracted employees checking their phones for the latest analysis?

Checking the stats

For most major sporting events, research shows a loss of work hours due to employees watching during work time or staying up late to watch games and then claiming a ‘sickie’ the next day.

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, held in South Africa, InsideView, a marketing intel platform, projected that the US economy lost $121.7 million, due to 21 million Americans watching soccer for 10 minutes out of their working day.

Most of the matches taking place in this year’s World Cup in Russia kick off at 10pm, midnight or into the wee hours Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST). While many Australians will be watching recorded games after the event, at least some of the big contests such as Denmark v Socceroos (June 21st, kick off 10pm) or Tunisia v England (June 19th, kick off 4am) will attract a large contingent wanting to see the games live.

According to a report by NBN Co from 2017, one in three young Australians have stayed up all night to watch sport. So how concerned should employers be?

Employer or umpire?

I’m sure Ari Goldberg, chief executive of trend site Stylecaster, speaks for many employers when he says: “The important part is, are you hitting your work goals and commitments?” If that’s happening, he says, he’s happy to let employees tune in at one of the office TVs, or stream to their desktop.

Earlier this year, HRM ran an article saying that, in fact HR can work enthusiasm around sports to a business advantage, with discussion becoming a ‘catalyst for increased engagement and a conversation about flexibility’. Setting aside times to watch a game together in the office could help build camaraderie and foster teamwork, no easy feat in today’s offices where many workers don’t know each other.

“People throw a lot of blame at the World Cup,” Jim Belosic, chief executive at marketing firm ShortStackLab told CNBC. At his firm, employees can watch favorite teams on their own or join company-hosted viewing parties. “In reality, YouTube, email and texting costs billions of more in lost productivity than World Cup could ever hope,” said Belosic.

Belosic is right in as much as social media and technology presents a far bigger and easier to access distraction. Take fantasy sports and fantasy football.

Working through the fantasy

Estimates suggest there are 1.65 million fantasy sports participants in Australia.

Although there are no figures for how many people are accessing the online games during work hours, in the US around 66 per cent of Fantasy Football fans are employed full time. Many of them are thought to be researching, building and managing their teams during work hours from mobile phones, tablets or the speedy internet connections they can only get in modern workplaces.

The cost of this to business could approach US$16 billion, according to global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

CEO John Challenger is nevertheless quite sanguine about the enthusiasm for fantasy sports, and says there needs to be balance in any working day.

“We all need distractions during the day, whether it’s checking Facebook, scanning Twitter, buying something at, or managing one’s fantasy football team. It may seem counterintuitive, but those short periods of being unproductive help workers be more productive in the long run.”

From a self-interested perspective, I couldn’t agree more. But what do you think? Was that a whistle I just heard?

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Linda Norman
Linda Norman

I can’t think of anything better for team building (and much cheaper than an off-site love in)!

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