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How to handle the World Cup in the workplace

Few people would argue that football is the sport that provokes the most passion and reverence amongst its fans. ­Supporters travel not just up and down the country to cheer on their teams in even the most minor of matches, but across continents to watch their idols perform their wizardry live on the pitch.

When it comes to an occasion as grandiose as the World Cup, this dedication is ramped up to the point of hysteria; it transcends town or city loyalty and becomes a matter of national pride that consumes the media. Expecting employees to ignore a crucial knock-out match in order to complete a spreadsheet is not only unreasonable, it’s unsustainable.

Football fans – whether they’re ardent supporters or those who develop an interest only in major tournaments – will find a way to follow their national team. Insisting that they ignore the games will be futile; they’ll simply call in sick, or furtively listen to or watch the matches on their phones or laptops while pretending to work.

In 2014, research by Canada Life Group Insurance found that one in ten employees would not hesitate to call in sick in order to watch World Cup matches. Add to this the difference in time zones (meaning employees are more likely to stay up well into the night and be unable to either attend work or perform effectively), along with the increased alcohol consumption resulting in hangover related sick-days, and organisations will find that absence levels increase while productivity takes a nose dive.

Football fans will watch matches. It’s far better for employers to acknowledge this fact and accommodate it than deal with the inevitable fall-out, and there are some very simple ways to achieve this.

Establishing and communicating a clear policy well in advance of the tournament that gives clear guidelines for what is expected of employees can ensure that they get their football fix without a drop in productivity. However, it’s also important to make sure that those who care nothing for football – or even sport in general – do not feel that they’re being unfairly overlooked.

Flexibility is key – whether a match is on during the working day or middle of the night, make it clear that working hours can be adjusted rather than reduced. For daytime matches, set up a TV or screen in an area of the workplace where fans can watch the game without disrupting co-workers. If space doesn’t allow (or noise will be disruptive), agree on a venue such as a local bar where employees can congregate (making it clear that usual rules such as no alcohol during working hours still apply).

But this isn’t a free holiday – it should be stressed that any time spent away from the workplace to follow football must be made up elsewhere, either by coming in earlier, staying later or taking shorter lunch breaks. With a match taking around two hours, allowing for half-time and injury time, this could mean asking employees to take a half-hour lunch break instead of their usual hour but spread across one or two weeks (bearing in mind working time regulations).

It’s incredibly important to bear in mind that while football is a passion for many people, there are just as many who care not a jot about millionaires kicking balls around fields but may feel just – if not more – passionate about other events. Wimbledon, the Chelsea Flower Show or a child’s school play can provoke as much passion in a non-sport fan, so extend them the same flexibility when it comes to their own needs and requests. As an employer, you have a duty to be fair and balanced, so flexible working patterns should be extended to the whole workforce.

Finally, regardless of the occasion – whether it be the World Cup, the Grand National or a five-year-old’s egg and spoon race – your clients must come first and foremost. Unless they specifically request it, never re-schedule a meeting or event in favour of a sporting or recreational event. There are many other firms that will be more than willing and able to take them off your hands and show them that they are their number one priority.