Should you let your staff watch the World Cup on company time?

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Of course, its up to you but set down some rules first so theres no need for red cards.

The Russia World Cup is upon us and will run until Sunday 15 July. England are scheduled to play all of their games either at 7pm or at weekends, even if they make it all the way to the final. But many other games will be shown on week days at lunchtime (1pm) and in the afternoon (3pm and 4pm).

“Whether or not England are in it for the duration, you are likely to have employees wanting to watch favourites like Brasil, Spain and Germany,” says Lucy Merrifield, HR consultant and founder of Mesh Consulting. If a member of your staff is Polish or French, they will want to follow their teams’ efforts, too.

So what do you do?

“Football fans will watch matches, it’s a fact,” says Susy Roberts, executive coach and founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts. “It’s far better for you to acknowledge this and accommodate them than deal with the inevitable fall-out if you don’t.”

Give them a gift of time

Why not make it a positive experience and allow everyone to have a break to watch important games together?

“Giving a ‘gift’ of time to your employees to do something they love is likely to result in happier, more motivated people – and that can only be good for your business,” says Lynn Scott, leadership coach and author of The Effortless Leader Revolution.

Setting up a TV in a communal area and providing refreshments will earn you lots of brownie points.

“You could also do a sweepstake with a prize for first and second place, which should get everyone involved, even those not into football,” says Nicki Bidgood, director at outsourced HR consultancy Westcountry HR.

For sure, some of your people may want to carry on working without being distracted by the noise. “If so, you could allow the others to watch the games in a local bar, making it clear that usual rules such as no alcohol during working hours still apply,” says Roberts.

For other games, consider relaxing your policy on people using their work computers or their own devices for personal usage at work so that they can follow the games they are keen to see.

Take a flexible approach

If you cannot entertain letting your staff take time out, perhaps allow them to work flexibly for the duration of the tournament.

Roberts says: “Make it clear that working hours can be adjusted rather than reduced, that any time spent away from their work to follow football must be made up elsewhere, either by coming in earlier or staying later. This way they can get their football fix and you don’t get a drop in productivity.”

Also, make it clear this is a temporary allowance in their favour that will be removed if abused. “This is likely to ensure that people don’t mess up and that work continues to get done around the matches,” Merrifield says.

Offering some flex to accommodate personal interests will benefit you once the World Cup’s finished, too.

Merrifield says: “It provides a great reason for your employees to stay with you in the longer term and perform well. They will also do your PR for you by speaking well of you, which will in turn make recruitment easier, with good candidates lining up to join you.”

Be fair

Just make sure you also offer the opportunity to work flexibly during this time to those not interested in the football. “This way they won’t complain about others receiving special treatment,” says Merrifield.

Or reassure them they will get the opportunity to flex their hours at a later date.

Roberts says: “There are many who care not a jot about millionaires kicking balls around fields but may feel just – if not more – passionate about Wimbledon, the Chelsea Flower Show or a child’s school play. Extend them the same flexibility when it comes to their own needs and interests – as an employer, you have a duty to be fair and balanced.”

You must also be fair in one other respect. If you allow employees to watch one of the big games but refuse to allow a Polish employee to watch Poland play, that is likely to amount to discrimination.

Beware of the banter

If you have different members of staff supporting different teams, things could get heated. There’s a risk that friendly banter before, during and after a game suddenly slips into discriminating comments so you need to remind your employees to be respectful of their work colleagues.

“Reconfirm that any offensive comments or behaviour when discussing national rivalries will constitute harassment or unlawful discrimination and will be addressed as a disciplinary matter,” Merrifield says.

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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