Sicknote Alert for World Cup!

Bahrain, 9 Jun 2006

By Geoffrey Bew

MANAMA - Businesses in Bahrain and across the region are set to lose thousands of dinars in lost productivity and absenteeism as World Cup fever takes over from today.

A survey has revealed one in five employees in the Middle East plans to take time off or reduce their working hours during the month-long tournament, which kicks off tonight at 7pm with Germany's opener against Costa Rica.

According to the results of a study by Dubai-based recruitment company GulfTalent, 20 per cent of people said they would take some time off, while just over 50pc intend to work shorter days.

The remainder said they would take annual leave or simply report in sick and stay at home to watch the games.

No exact figures were available on how much firms in the region could lose, but it is thought to be similar to figures predicted in Europe.

A UK survey this week stated British companies stand to lose £500 million (BD189m) due to sick leave and post-match sluggishness.

While Bahrain narrowly missed out on qualification for German 2006, the Saudi Arabian and Iranian national teams' involvement is predicted to keep interest levels high in the Gulf.

"The findings confirm what most employers expected - that there is going to be a productivity slump during the World Cup this month," concluded a GulfTalent analyst in the survey.

"Pre-planned absences from work are only part of the story.

"The actual level of absenteeism is likely to be even higher, due to post-match celebrations or lack of sleep, as fans stay up till the early hours of the morning to watch the games."

Tens of thousands of Dutch workers phoned in ill during the European Championships in Portugal in 2004, with sickness levels rising 20pc on days when the Dutch national side played.

A Dutch company recently launched a new insurance policy allowing employers to insure themselves against the sudden rise in staff sick days expected during this month's tournament.

According to GulfTalent, the level of productivity loss for Middle East companies may not be as severe as their European counterparts, as many games fall outside working hours and alcohol consumption is much lower.

However, it says companies with poor or inadequate guidelines are still likely to suffer a disproportionate amount of absenteeism.

Bahrain was among those countries covered in the survey along with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen.

Analysts from the Dubai company believe it could be a bad year for business as not long after the World Cup, the Ramadan festivities begin and businesses in the region may be poised for a four-month long slow period, only regaining their momentum again after Eid Al Fitr in the second half of October.