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Olympics: Short-term drop in productivity but long-term gains, says JPC

Published:Friday | August 10, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Olympics celebrations in Half-Way Tree, Kingston, on Wednesday. Workers allowed to celebrate sporting events are likely to be less productive in the short term, but more productive in the long run, says Jamaica Productivity Centre researcher. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

Productivity experts call it presenteeism. It describes employees who show up for work but whose attention is not focused on the job; and is an expected side-effect of the Olympics and other major events.

But Alrick Campbell, senior productivity specialist in the research department of the Jamaica Productivity Centre (JPC), says while there are short-term declines in productivity during major events, these are often outweighed by the long-term benefits, both in the workplace and the national economy.

Large sporting events, says Campbell, lead in the long run to improved workplace morale and productivity, and, for host countries of the events, improved visitor arrivals and more investments for the national economy.

"Speaking primarily of large-scale events like World Cup Football and the Olympics, it is expected that in the short term, there might be a decline in productivity at the workplace. The reason for this is that there might be workers who might have made plans to attend these events," the researcher says.

"For the Olympics, persons might have applied for leave to attend. Also, persons planning to watch the Olympics might not come to work during that two- to three-week period. Others who come to work do not do work - creating presenteeism. Persons might stream the Olympic events to their computer and to their radio," he said.

Campbell says any attempt by employers to short-circuit these practices will backfire, and is, therefore, not recommended.

"But it is important for employers to embrace these events, too, when they do take place. You want to ensure that you boost employee morale. When the team being cheered is doing well, it builds camaraderie and makes them more productive workers after the Olympics. Even leading up to the Olympics, it might boost productivity as more hours of work are put in preparation."

Campbell, noting that there are no local studies on the issue, said that others done internationally on World Cup Football show that when Brazil won the World Cup in 1994 and 2002, their real GDP increased during that period.

"For Brazil, GDP increased from 4.9 per cent in 1993 to 5.9 per cent in 1994. It increased from growth of 1.3 per cent in 2001 growth of 1.9 per cent in 2002. What it does tell us is that people use sports to build morale, making them into more productive workers," said the productivity expert.

He cited one United Kingdom study which looked on the views of women as opposed to men on the effect of sporting events on their morale.

"Forty-seven per cent of women as opposed to 40 per cent of men believed that sporting success lighten their moods and make them into more productive workers," said Campbell.

Campbell is in disagreement with one set of researchers who contend that because the majority of economic activity created around the Olympics and national sporting events is government-inspired, the effect on productivity and economy is negative in the long run.

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

The study looked at 13 countries. It found "differences in productivity for the private and governmental investments where private investments have been found to be of significantly higher productivity than governmental. Furthermore, we find that the governmental investments crowd out private investments which, we argue, lead to lower overall productivity. The World Cup-related investments were found to be of the lowest productivity and, to a higher extent, crowded out private investments. This is what leads to the negative economic effect."

Campbell acknowledged that public investments attract lower returns than private events, but asserts that the study is looking at sporting events that countries themselves invest in and the effect on the national economy.

"At the end of the day, sporting events of the size of the Olympics bring excitement connected to achievement and success and make people want to achieve the same degree of success in their work environment," he said.

In addition: "There are increased inflows from tourism and also more investment to the country. There are long-term positive returns to be garnered."

Campbell references an earlier study The impact of sport on the UK workplace published in June 2006, to support his view.

Conducted by The Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), the study's findings are based on information gathered from qualitative and quantitative research, which consisted of focus groups, one-to-one interviews, and a national poll of 2,000 people aged 18 to 70 years old.

The results assert that sport can have a positive impact on boosting morale and improving mood, motivation and productivity in the working environment.

"Sixty-three per cent men and 52 per cent of women said that sporting success (that is, their team winning) has an impact on their approach to work; and 47 per cent women and 40 per cent of men said that sporting success lifts their mood and makes them more productive in their jobs," the SIRC study found.

It also asserts that a fifth of men said sport increases their motivation at work, compared to 12 per cent of women and that only three per cent said sporting success was distracting and made them less productive.