World Cup Fever Likely to Make Workers 'Sick'

Saudi Arabia, 9 Jun 2006

JEDDAH — Employers are poised to experience a major drop in productivity during the month of June as the 2006 World Cup kicks off today.

According to the results of a new survey released yesterday by GulfTalent, a leading recruitment website in the region, large numbers of employees plan to take time off to watch football.

The survey, which was conducted in early June, found that 20 percent of respondents indicated their intention to take at least some time off from work. Just over half of the respondents said they intended to work shorter days for much of the month-long event, with the rest indicating that they planned either to request days off using their annual leave, or simply call in sick.

GulfTalent’s survey also asked employers and those in managerial positions whether they would allow their subordinates time off to watch the games. Responses to this question varied significantly.

“This event takes place once every four years. It is the greatest sporting event on the world stage. We should give people a chance to enjoy something that has nothing to do with politics and violence,” one respondent was quoted by the survey as saying.

All survey participants did not share this view.

“Watching the games is a personal decision and up to the individual. However, it should not come at the expense of the organization,” said one production manager.

One message from the survey to employees seemed to be: Check your manager’s interest in the World Cup. If he’s not enthusiastic about the games, then he’s less likely to understand your interest in taking time off.

Only nine percent of the managers who responded with great interest in the World Cup said they would not tolerate absenteeism from their subordinates. In comparison, about half of the managers with great interest in World Cup soccer said they would be willing to grant time off to their subordinates.

Five percent of respondents said that their employers were actually providing a place at work for employees to watch the games, and because the event is pay-per-view, it’s likely that these lucky employees will take advantage of the generosity of their employers. Eighty-five percent of the respondent expressed great interest in the World Cup, but one in five said they would not have access to watching the matches on television.

“The findings confirm what most employers expect — that there is going to be a productivity slump during the World Cup this month,” concluded the survey report. “Preplanned 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 late to watch the games.”

The presence of the Saudi national team in the World Cup is likely to boost the level of interest in the games by Gulf nationals, while expatriates in the region will have their own national teams to root for.

The productivity slump from the World Cup is going to continue past July 9, say the report’s analysts, as the summer vacation and Ramadan follow through to the end of October.

The World Cup productivity issue is not confined to the Middle East.

According to estimates by Tenon, a UK-based accounting firm, British companies stand to lose 500 million pounds this June due to World Cup related sick leave and post-match sluggishness, with this figure expected to rise if England makes it into the final rounds.

Tens of thousands of Dutch workers phoned in ill during the European Championships in Portugal in 2004, with sickness levels rising 20 percent on days when the Dutch national side played. SEZ, a Dutch insurance company, recently launched a new insurance policy allowing employers in the country to insure themselves against the sudden rise in staff sick days expected during this month’s World Cup.

Many companies in Europe have tackled the issue by providing facilities for staff to watch selected games at work, while communicating clear guidelines on acceptable leave policy.

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. In addition, there is negligible consumption of alcoholic beverages, a main driver of World Cup related sickness. However, companies with poor or inadequate guidelines are still likely to suffer a disproportionate amount of absenteeism.