Balancing sporting events and workplace duties

Published: Sunday | September 30, 2012 Comments 0
Jamaican athletics fans erupt in elation as they watch on a big-screen TV native Olympians set the stadium alight at the Summer Games in London last month. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer
Jamaican athletics fans erupt in elation as they watch on a big-screen TV native Olympians set the stadium alight at the Summer Games in London last month. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

Alrick Campbell, Guest Columnist

The Olympics are now over, and the performance of Jamaica's athletes was tremendous. They brought glory to the nation once again. We must acknowledge that our athletes made it to the Olympics because of their work ethic and dedication. We must commend all of them for that - even those who did not live up to our high expectations.

However, in the aftermath of the Olympics, employers may have reason to celebrate - if they were accommodating! Research suggests that while there might have been a decline in productivity during the three-week period of the Olympics, those losses are short-term and will surely be recovered and exceeded over the longer term.

Employers might have been worried because of the perceived negative attributes of employee behaviour leading up to, and during, major sporting events such as the Olympics and football World Cup.

First, if employees want to attend the Olympics, they will need to apply for at least a one-month vacation leave. If there is no one to fill in, certain activities will be stalled until the employee gets back. If the employee wants to watch every sporting event undisturbed, he or she may not need to attend the Olympics, but could just stay home and watch all of these events. Make it too difficult for the employee to get vacation and you will be hit with sick leave during event days.

If you assume that the employee used up all available sick days and there are no vacation days left, the employee will come to work but not much will be done.

Presenteeism

By trying to force your workers to come to work when they are ill or their focus is elsewhere will automatically replace absenteeism with 'presenteeism'. Presenteeism describes the situation in which an employee is physically present at work but, because of sickness, stress, mental state, etc., is unable to perform work duties optimally and is also more likely to make mistakes. Presenteeism is a big problem for businesses and is thought to contribute to greater productivity losses than absenteeism.

When presenteeism exists, employees may simply come to work and stream the events on their computer, listen to the radio or express the need to take a break. Statistics revealed by communications devices firm JABRA in Britain prior to the 2012 Olympics revealed that 16.6 per cent of all respondents were planning to take a holiday to watch the Games on TV, while an additional 18 per cent indicated they would follow events on their work PC. A further nine per cent stated they would follow events via their mobile phones.

The JABRA survey also revealed that "60 per cent of the UK's office workers are planning to take the opportunity to watch this huge sporting event that has landed on their doorstep. Five per cent stated that they would call in sick to be able to watch their favourite event taking place, with 25 per cent stating that they would miss work to watch athletics, and a further 17 per cent will be taking annual leave in order to attend the Games".

Preventing workers from being able to follow activities/events they have an overwhelming interest in can backfire on an employer, as this may lead to increased resentment by staff towards the organisation and lower staff morale. In this context, reduced worker productivity may even extend after the Games. Employers, therefore, must exercise caution before making demands of their workers during this period.

The question then is: What can employers do? Prior to the Olympic Games 2012, the JABRA study found that "56 per cent of office workers said their employer had not announced any plans to manage employee interest in the event, and only eight per cent indicated that their employer was planning to introduce flexible working technology in time for the event".

It is critical for employers to understand that even if they themselves do not have interest in the Games, many of their workers do. The key is for employers to know how to manage employees' interest in these events. Perhaps the introduction of flexible working hours would be useful, or even allowing employees to work from home or introducing staff rotation.

Another option employers may want to consider is the introduction of a specific leave policy during major Games. The premise is similar to that utilised by many organisations, including the public sector, during the Christmas period. Employers can also provide opportunities for workers to watch the Games by acquiring television sets. Even if this is temporary, it has the effect of boosting team spirit, morale and productivity by encouraging staff to watch sports together with managers.

Reasonable workers

While the focus has been on how employers can effectively manage worker interest during major sporting events, workers, too, need to be reasonable. Evidence points to an increase in worker productivity prior to these sporting activities through increased hours, so that they have much less to do during the Games. Exerting greater effort in the job prior to these major sporting events may be just what employers expect and what they may be willing to reward.

The positive impact that major sporting events have on individuals is what translates to overall economic performance of a country. Economies are impacted differently depending on whether they are the hosts of these events or just participating countries.

For example, a 2011 study titled The Economic Impact of Major Sporting Events by Rasmus Rodby Kristiansen and Meta Reimer Brodsted from the Aarhus University's School of Business and Social Science in Denmark found that "the hosting country will suffer a negative economic effect on growth in the longer run".

The authors explained that major sporting events of a certain magnitude are primarily government-funded; attract a lower productivity; and crowd out private investments which are typically more productive. This study looked specifically at the countries that have hosted the FIFA World Cup, and while this may be true, a distinction must also be made when looking at how host countries are impacted as opposed to participating countries.

The 1986 World Cup, won by Argentina, was hosted by Mexico, but as Gert de Beer, a director at Deloitte Human Capital, pointed out: "Having won the 1986 World Cup, Argentina's real GDP grew from minus 7 per cent in 1985 to 7.1 per cent in 1986." When Brazil won in 1994 and 2002, they were never the hosts, but "Brazil's real GDP climbed from 4.9 per cent in 1993 to 5.9 per cent in 1994, and then from 1.3 per cent in 2001 to 1.9 per cent in 2002".

Achievement and success

Sporting events of the size of the Olympics bring excitement connected to achievement and success, and even make people want to achieve the same degree of success in their work environment, especially when their country is doing well.

The 2006 Hudson Report conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), which examined the impact of sport on the workplace, showed that major sporting events have the impact of boosting employee morale and making them more productive in the workplace.

The findings revealed that of the 2,000 people polled between 18 and 70 years of age, 63 per cent of men and 52 per cent of women said that sporting success (i.e., their team winning) has an impact on their approach to work; 47 per cent women and 40 per cent of men stated that sporting success lifts their mood and makes them more productive in their jobs; one-fifth of men and 12 per cent of women indicated that sport increases their motivation at work. Only three per cent said that sporting success is distracting and makes them less productive.

While there are have been no local studies on this issue, the evidence does suggest that short-run losses in productivity arising from the Olympics will be offset by long-run gains through a renewed sense of desire to be successful as individuals, employees and as a country. Our athletes were successful and inspired a nation. Accommodating employers can expect greater improvements in worker productivity.

Alrick Campbell is senior productivity specialist at the Jamaica Productivity Centre. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com

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