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How to handle office World Cup fever

WORKING out how to deal with the World Cup is tricky. A recent poll by YouGov found that 23 per cent of workers said they would take the day off to watch England play in the World Cup, while almost half said that being allowed to watch games in the office would boost morale. But is that a good idea? What about the loss of focus – not to mention time? We asked our panel of experts for their words of wisdom.

Ceri Roderick, psychologist, Pearn Kandola

TENSIONS between work and soccer are an inevitability for a lot of people over the coming month, but it could be worse. With most kick off times at 4pm or 8.30pm, the distraction will not be as great as when time zones put big games in the middle of the night or the middle of the working day. However, employers would do well to recognise that people’s minds may be elsewhere. Perks have a disproportionate effect on work morale, and there is a chance here for employers to win hearts with relatively little disruption to the working day. Sweepstakes, pundit emails, shared watching of games (for 4pm kick offs) are all opportunities for an employer to embrace the madness rather than kick against it. Soccer fanatics will watch the key games regardless, so take the chance to turn it into a benefit in kind rather than have the workforce living with surreptitious guilt for a month. But watch the effect on people who are not soccer fans, they need to be engaged as well rather than accidentally alienated; try to get everyone involved or at least make sure that any leniency in terms of “soccer breaks” is available to all.

Embracing the zeitgeist also gives employers the moral(e) high ground in terms of establishing ground rules – very necessary to ensure that whole teams are not psychologically absent for large periods of time. Drawing clear lines and expectations will help to ensure that conflicts of attention are minimised.

Finally, prepare for the psychological effects of individual game results. Elation, tension, anxiety, depression – even anger – are all potential outcomes of the favoured team’s performance and it pays to recognise this in terms of how people are managed – think about the timing of giving people good or bad news. Be ready as well for the “come-down” effect if England do poorly (that would be a good time to introduce some other positive distraction to avoid moping affecting work performance) and be ready to embrace the morale lift if England do well. Such positive news has an overall enhancing effect on sentiment and feelings of well being – look for ways to sustain it over a longer period.

Alex Pratt, author of Austerity Business

IT is understandable if the management devil on your shoulder wants to file everything World Cup in the “too much hassle” drawer. Surely, the last distraction we need in austere economic times is to reduce our output even more, just because of a football game? What next, close down during Wimbledon? And it sets such an alarming precedent for the looming prospect of 2012 Olympic duvet days.

Then there's the matter of the non-English members of staff. Scots have a duty to support England’s opponents no matter what, but what about other competitors like France – do they get to watch their own games? And how about countries which didn't qualify – can they be denied the chance to watch their own team? The whole thing is fraught with employment law traps, and that’s before we even entertain the notion of a few beers in the office. In a clash of timings – what if more of your staff want to watch the German match than England, and get their towels on the remote control first? What is someone throws a sickie instead of coming in to watch the game? Your usual “letting the team down, loss of productivity” argument for disciplinary action will sound hollow if it amounts to having missed a football game.

On the other hand, the leader in you will know that you can always find plenty of reasons not to do the right thing, and that the right thing is to grab with both hands rare moments like these to celebrate and commiserate together. Getting more from less needs more courage, not less. More team bonding, not less. More laughter, not less. In the age of austerity business, above all your team needs strong leadership and is fearful of being over-managed in a culture of fear.

If your instinct is to screen and scream for England, then you’re likely a leader and your team will follow. If you’re more worried about the “elf and safety” risks of watching the game together then you should question whether you’re the right person to be carrying the flag.

Your choice. Who dares wins.

Jane Mann, Fox Williams

THE World Cup can be good for workplace morale, but it can also create a headache for employers. An employee who skips work or “throws a sickie” to watch a match can be disciplined and is not entitled to be paid.

However, employers should not jump to conclusions simply because an employee has not turned up for work on a big match day. Ensure that any absence/disciplinary procedures are followed, employees dealt with fairly and that suitable warnings are given. Dismissal for a first “offence” is unlikely to be fair.

It isn’t uncommon for staff to get carried away when “Engerland” are playing. Office banter can get out of hand, as shown by a recent court case. One Ms Okerago was asked by a colleague whether she would be supporting England or her own country at the World Cup. When Ms Okerago responded that she would support her own country, her colleague told her to go back to her “own [expletive] country”. The tribunal agreed that Ms Okerago’s colleague’s comments amounted to direct race discrimination.

With some World Cup matches having inconvenient kick-off times of 12.30 and 3.00, many employers will take a pragmatic approach by allowing employees to watch/listen to the match at work, provided this does not interfere with time critical matters. Employers may require football fans to catch up on work at other times to avoid placing an unfair burden on other colleagues. Some employers will make a virtue out of necessity by arranging official screenings. Be conscious of differing allegiances in the workplace. Don’t assume it’s the England matches everyone wants to watch. An informal approach is probably best.

Finally, what do you do if an employee gets involved in allegations of football hooliganism at the World Cup? Offences committed outside of work should not be treated as automatic reasons for dismissal. It will only be appropriate to dismiss an employee for hooliganism if the employee’s actions have had a negative effect on their business.