Many companies are under strain from the recession, resulting in people working longer and harder than ever before, with morale at rock bottom. We also know that working consistently long hours can damage an individual's health, adversely affect their home life and can undermine productivity.
So we need people to be focused, motivated, to work smarter rather than longer and to unwind with their work colleagues. One way to do this, and to encourage team working, is to give them some flexibility and autonomy at work, and the World Cup is a perfect opportunity to do this.
Many employees will want to watch the matches, and discuss them with their colleagues, clients and suppliers. This can have a real bonding effect within the workplace. If employers say, we will allow you flexibility to watch the England games from home or even at work, but given the economic imperatives, we expect you to be focused and engaged when you are working, I'm sure the payoffs will be great.
Sport is engaging and energising, even when you are a passive observer. It also stimulates discussions at work, which indirectly helps to forge a team spirit. The alternative is that the company will have people taking time off or sick leave, or rushing off to the nearest TV or car radio to find out what is going on. There will be more "leaves on the line" and additional cases of "summer flu". This is about trust: do we trust employees to work hard as recompense for allowing them some discretionary time away, or do we need to micro-manage them?
Although most early England matches will take place after normal working hours, some employers will doubtless face unauthorised absences and staff calling in sick, but these issues need
to be dealt with through proper management, not by simply awarding additional time off. To allow extra time off would make employers vulnerable to accusations of unfairness from employees who are not football fans and demands for equal treatment during other sporting events.
How would an employer ensure minimum cover during an England game without causing animosity between those who were allowed to watch the match and those who weren't? Would it offer desk-bound staff time off at a later date? Difficult precedents could be set. The World Cup is an opportunity for employers to improve workforce cohesion and harness staff enthusiasm, but a clear strategy is essential. Show you understand the event's importance to some staff and set out the options. Some may seek to take holiday and if several employees apply for leave for the same period, encourage them to take time off for different matches or consider whether they can be trusted to catch up or work in advance.
You should also decide upon the policy regarding access to matches via the internet. Instead of threatening staff with disciplinary action, give employees some autonomy; allow them reasonable viewing time during office hours on the condition that work is completed, clients receive a normal service and lost time is made up.
You can monitor performance in early matches and review the situation as the tournament proceeds. Why should you bear the cost of additional leave when good planning can deal with the issue for nothing?