World Cup Fever and Employee Productivity

watching soccer at workThe FIFA World Cup is one of the few events capable of diverting the world’s attention from the BP oil spill. I’m sure for many it’s a relief not to have a world-class disaster as the focus of their attention during every waking moment. In that regard, even for non-soccer fans, the World Cup is a welcome diversion. Of course, for many, it’s much more than that. It’s an obsession. It’s also a month-long diversion from other obligations.

Here’s a story about how businesses are dealing with the ways in which World Cup fever is affecting employee productivity. By Susan Krashinsky and Iain Marlow, for the Globe & Mail: The World Cup in the workplace – no keeper can stop it

[A]t its call centre in Brampton, the Canadian telecommunications giant [Rogers Communications] has wheeled in four giant projection screens to allow employees to catch World Cup games.

In Brampton, Rogers has opted to face head-on the possibility of lost productivity during this global sports event. Almost all World Cup matches will take place during regular work hours in North America. Rather than pretend employees won’t be focused on the tournament, Rogers is supplying the screens – some playing silently for those taking calls, and one that will sit in the cafeteria, volume cranked up….

Two main ethical questions arise, here. One: what do employees owe their employers? The other: what do employers owe their employees? Alternatively, we can combine the two into the single question, ‘How should an important-but-time-consuming cultural event like the World Cup be integrated into the workplace? Obviously, cases will differ. In an Air Traffic Control tower, where distractions could be fatal, no one (hopefully) is going to make an argument for installing a big-screen TV to watch whatever game is on. On the other hand, if you happen to work in a sports bar, the question is again kind of trivial but for the opposite reasons.

Setting aside those extremes, what about your average, middle-of-the-road office environment? Clearly any sensible solution has to involve a formulation of shared expectations. Managers and employees need to come to an understanding about how (as opposed to “whether”) employees are going to check in on World Cup games. In principle, any mutually-agreeable solution is ethically acceptable. But I would think really wise managers would find ways to turn employees’ interest in the World Cup into a benefit, rather than a liability. The most obvious way is by using the World Cup as part of various morale-boosting activities. More subtly, companies might draw on sports analogies — analogies that should be particularly vivid during the World Cup — in order to create training activities, perhaps ones that provide lessons on teamwork and courage. Indeed, they could even draw on the world cup to create training activities that focus on ethics, building on the analogy between sports and business as two competitive domains that can and should be productive endeavours, but that are more likely to be so when played within the boundaries of a well-thought-out set of rules.

3 comments so far

  1. Paulina on

    Isn’t it that MEN in the management are organizing something for MALE employees? What about women in such case?

  2. Chris MacDonald on


    That’s partly true, I suppose. But not all managers are men, and certainly not all World Cup fans are men. I don’t know statistics, but anecdotally at least there are lots of women watching games and interested in the tournament over all.

    It’s worth noting that this was an issue (as the story I quote mentions) during the Olympics as well, and the Olympics’ audience certainly includes lots of women (maybe even a majority).

    But still, it strikes me that there’s a kernel of truth in your question. To be honest, I’m not sure, for example, whether this question of accommodating World Cup fans is an issue in female-dominated workplaces.


  3. […] pm Two extremes, right? The title represents Chris MacDonald’s last two blog entries. His June 15th entry discusses worker productivity and the World Cup. Here MacDonald asks the question, “How […]

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