The data proves that Australia’s love of sports isn’t just a cliche. So are there ways companies can use this passion to help with engagement?
It happens during the days or weeks of a big sporting event – like the Australian Open, or the Winter Olympics. Colleagues start arriving in the office more lethargic, and with a growing expertise in something to which they’ve previously given no interest. You say hello and they respond, “You know, scientists doubt the quintuple axel – that’s five mid-air spins in figure skating – is physically possible for a human.”
I’m guilty of it myself; I’ve been confidently informing people that some ski-jumpers use jet lag to help them perform (apparently being tired makes them rely on muscle-memory and forget that what they’re doing is suicidal).
So (considering this is an HR news site) the question becomes: is it possible for employers to use a love of sports to their advantage?
Crazy for sport
Calling Australia “sports mad” would be a cliche if it weren’t demonstrably true. Sport regularly tops all five of the most watched programs on TV, and 11.4 million of us consume an average of almost two hours of sports content online each month.
This kind of devotion can be tapped into by employers, the argument goes, and can become the catalyst for increased engagement and a conversation about flexibility.
“Australia is still the country with the lowest levels of confidence in the job market, and we’ve got essentially flatlining engagement levels,” says Aaron McEwan HR Advisory Leader at Gartner. “One of the interesting components of this, is that while there’s been no increase in intent to leave, we’re seeing continued decreases in discretionary effort.”
Discretionary effort is the research term for how hard an employee is working. It measures the difference between “phoning it in”, and true engagement. McEwan feels that because of our low levels of engagement that every time Australia goes into a big sporting season there are both threats and an opportunities.
“One of those threats is that there’s a decent chance that a chunk of our workforces will be coming into work pretty blurry-eyed, so obviously that can impact productivity,” says McEwan. He mentions that it’s an unnecessary risk for organisations where safety is a concern.
This concern isn’t just anecdotal. According to a report by NBN Co, one in three young Australians have stayed up all night watching sport – mostly streaming overseas events.
“With this kind of sporting season, you can also use it as an opportunity to engage people and bring some fun and excitement to work. And hopefully that leads to higher levels of engagement and productivity.”
Typical activities include sweepstakes around Melbourne Cup, and employees being allowed to wear team jerseys during the playoffs. But the real staff benefit to consider is flexibility.
Flexibility isn’t just for athletes
It’s not necessarily suitable for all organisations but for those where it is, flexibility can often be hard to get off the ground. That’s because the conversation around it is tricky.
It’s one thing to offer staff the ability to work some hours at home, or to work outside of the nine-to-five, but it’s harder to convince them that making use of flexibility won’t harm their careers. Being the first person to take advantage can be daunting, and losing valuable face-time with your manager always feels like a bad idea.
So using a sporting season can be a great way to begin the conversation. Take advantage of many employees’ desire to enjoy sport to demonstrate that your organisation values their time. On the most basic level this would be allowing staff to, in advance, structure a work day around a favourite event.
“In Australia work-life balance – and flexibility almost by definition – is the number one attractor of talent. It’s the number one reason why someone would join a new employer. It’s also high-up in the top reasons while people leave their jobs,” says McEwan.
Not everyone is a fan
Not all employees are interested in sports, and imposing any kind of attitude on a workforce is rarely a good idea. “We just completed our research comparing CHRO’s top priorities with those of their CEOs. Interestingly, for CEOs it was diversity and inclusion,” says McEwan.
So if you’re having a workplace sports’ day, or using sports to talk about flexibility, it has to be completely voluntary.
Think of it like the curling event at the Winter Olympics. Your leadership are the “skips”, setting the initial trajectory of the “stone”. Some other employees are the “sweepers”, who help guide the stone with further advice from the skip. Then you have the last group; who are the employees asking what the hell curling is.
Learn about performance, engagement and culture from rugby league’s super coach Craig Bellamy, sportsman Ben Darwin and other business leaders and global thinkers at the AHRI National Convention in Melbourne from Tuesday 28 August to Thursday 30 August (extended program 28 – 31 August).