5 ways to prevent sports talk from killing productivity

On the Job

5 ways to prevent sports talk from killing productivity

Whether it’s the NBA Finals, Super Bowl, March Madness or the Olympics, sporting events can wreak havoc on work productivity.

The biggest challenge is employees calling in sick to watch television when they’re not actually sick. This costs organizations 8.7 percent of payroll each year, according to a survey conducted by Kronos. It also stresses out the co-workers who have to deal with the extra workload as a result of the missing employee.

The Monday after the Super Bowl is the biggest unofficial holiday of the year with 1.5 million people calling in sick. It’s actually prompted a grassroots movement to convince the National Football League to move the game to another day of the week besides Sunday.

With this month’s March Madness, there are a few things you and your company can do to enjoy the event and stay productive at the same time.

  1. Make suggestions. The onus doesn’t have to rest with management or human resources to plan the fun. If you have a recommendation, share it with someone. For example, allowing employees to wear their favorite team jersey to work can show some team spirit and not cost the company a dime.
  2. Set expectations. One of the reasons your office could be reluctant to relax the rules during a major sporting event is a concern someone will go too far and spoil it for everyone. Holly Haynes, assistant vice president of employee relations at Colonial Life, said communicating expectations is key. “Explaining upfront how streaming video all day strains your network and interferes with business will help employees to understand why the company is temporarily blocking some Internet access. If you decide to allow relaxed attire, be clear in explaining what is and isn’t acceptable.”
  3. Follow company policy. If the company decides to relax policy so employees can enjoy the event, it doesn’t mean all other company policies have been relaxed. Case in point: sporting wagers. Even if money isn’t involved, sporting events can sometimes bring out a competitive spirit. Haynes suggests turning the competition into something that can benefit a worthy cause. “One way to channel the competitive spirit behind a pool or bracket toward a good cause is to invite employees to contribute (not bet) a certain amount for a square on the pool grid or for completing a bracket. The ‘winner’ gets to pick a local charity to receive all the contributions.”
  4. Be flexible. Not everyone will want to watch the game. And not everyone will want to participate in some type of pool or bracket – even if it is for a good cause. Make sure employees know participation is voluntary. This might be a good time to allow employees flexible scheduling. Or give employees flexibility to schedule breaks around favorite games. On the other hand, employees who know they’re going to a party to watch the game might want to request paid time off so they can enjoy the event and not worry about getting up early the next morning.
  5. Have fun! This can be a great opportunity to recognize employees for their hard work. Let them have a little fun. Companies can plan “viewing parties” with big televisions or organize a potluck lunch with tailgate favorites. Employees at every level (yes, including the CEO) may want to see the game, too. It’s a chance to build camaraderie.

Sporting events don’t have to be drains on the business. With proper communication, from making suggestions and setting expectations to getting into the team spirit, sports events can actually bring employees together.

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