World Cup Fever to Hit Work Productivity

Posted on June 09, 2006

One in five employees in the Middle East plans to take time off or reduce working hours to watch the World Cup

Middle East companies are poised to experience a major drop in productivity during the month of June as large numbers of employees take time off to watch the football World Cup, according to the results of a new survey released by GulfTalent.com.

The survey, which was conducted in early June just before the start of the games, asked professionals in several countries across the region whether they planned to take any time off work to watch the World Cup. 20% of survey participants indicated that they would be taking some time off. Just over half of these intended to work shorter days, with the rest indicating that they planned either to request days off using their annual leave, or simply report sick and stay at home to watch the games.

GulfTalent.com'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. One senior executive said "This event takes place once every four years. It is the greatest sporting event on the world stage. We would better give people a chance to enjoy something that has nothing to do with politics and violence."

This view was not shared by all survey participants. A production manager working in the oil and gas sector said "Watching the games is a personal decision and up to the individual. However, it should not come at the expense of the organization."

Overall, the survey found managers who were themselves interested in watching the games were more accommodating, with one in two indicating that they would tolerate absences. This ratio was much lower among managers who had no personal interest in the games, with only one in seven willing to give time off to their staff. Among managers who had indicated they would not tolerate employees taking time off, only 9% were planning to take personal time off to watch the games.

The issue of access was also explored in the survey. Overall, 85% of those surveyed said they would like to watch the World Cup. However, one in five of those interested said that they would not be able to do so as they did not have access to a TV channel showing the games. Only 5% of respondents reported having facilities provided by their employer to watch the World Cup in their place of work.

Implications for Business

Commenting on the findings, a GulfTalent.com analyst who led the study said "The findings confirm what most employers expected - that there is going to be a productivity slump during the World Cup this month. 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."

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 the large expatriate community in the region spans several European and Asian countries also competing.

With the summer season arriving shortly after the World Cup, followed by Ramadan festivities starting this year in September, businesses in the region may be poised for a record four-month long slow period, regaining their momentum again only after Eid-ul-Fitr in the second half of October.

World Cup Guidelines for Employers

  • Consult staff to gauge the level of interest in the games and their working preferences – e.g. which games they consider ‘must see’ and how they prefer to make up for lost time (by coming in to work earlier, working over the weekend, etc.)

  • Make a realistic assessment of your business load during the World Cup period and the required human resources to function smoothly, allowing some margin for unplanned reductions in available man-hours

  • Taking into account your resource requirements as well as staff preferences to the extent possible, lay out a clear policy on the level of World Cup related absence that employees could enjoy, and determine how the policy would apply to different functions or departments

  • Clearly and effectively communicate the policy to staff at all levels, explaining the rationale behind it as well as details of its supervision and enforcement

  • Brief supervisors and managers on the policy, and their role in communicating, supervising and enforcing it

  • Where possible, show the popular World Cup games in the workplace, ideally using the occasion as team building and morale boosting opportunities

  • Closely monitor absence and sickness records, productivity metrics, as well as records of disciplinary actions to identify any undesirable patterns emerging

Source: GulfTalent.com

International Comparison

The productivity problem 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.com, 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.

The countries covered in the survey included Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen.

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