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Bosses should see the World Cup as a great opportunity for employee engagement, says CMI

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Employers fear the World Cup could cost UK business up to 1 billion in lost working hours, but figures from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), show anxious employers are 'missing a trick'.

The research reveals that more than half (54%) of UK employers are panicking at the thought of their employees being distracted by online coverage of the World Cup throughout June and July.

More than half (53%) think that endless conversations about football will divert employees' attention from the job in hand, while two in five suspect employees will take unauthorised time off to watch games.

While these fears are not surprising given the news coverage stories about the potential impact of this summer's tournament on organisations, the CMI poll shows this anxiety is largely unfounded.

Those predicting a spike in skiving should perhaps give their employees more credit; only 1% of those polled by CMI would consider calling in sick to watch an important match. When questioned, 60% of employees also say that work comes first, no matter how their football team is faring, and the vast majority of workers (93%) said that if their team crashed out of the tournament it wouldn't affect their work as it's ‘only a game'. 

Ruth Spellman, chief executive of CMI, said: "The World Cup should not negatively impact business performance.  In fact leaders could be missing a trick by dwelling on fears of coping with empty offices all summer. We're convinced it offers some fantastic opportunities to address some of the issues which have plagued UK organisations since the downturn struck - things like waning morale, insecurity and a lack of engagement."

The survey found 44% of employers see the morale-boosting potential of the tournament and more than a third (36%) believe it could improve working relationships. A quarter think it could provide opportunities to better engage employees with their business, but employers will need to be proactive if they want to turn the tournament to their advantage.  

The CMI is encouraging employers to embrace the World Cup by exploring options including installing screens to watch some games in the workplace and capitalising on the potential of the tournament to team build.

Spellman added: "It's greatly concerning that so many managers have fears around the World Cup. They clearly feel ill-equipped to develop appropriate strategies to cope with the problems associated with major sporting events. The fact that more than half of our managers and leaders think that there is nothing they can do to prevent the World Cup from distracting staff or to limit unauthorised absences amplifies the desperate need for improved standards of management and leadership. Better trained and qualified managers would be able to see the World Cup as a great opportunity for engagement, and take proactive measures to manage the situation to get the best out of it."

David Sims of City University London's Cass Business School said: "People who are fully engaged are likely to be even more alert during the World Cup. Employers who bring screens in to let their staff watch key games are likely to be regarded by people working harder and more effectively for the other six hours of the day. There will also be the bonding experience of watching a game with others who you may not know yet but you have seen around, as you find that they share interests with you. Informal conversations will lead to the formation of new informal networks, shared feelings and greater sympathy; all of these are likely to make the organisation more effective. In short, poor companies where employees are treated as indentured wage slaves will lose, and good companies where employees are engaged will gain." 

One company that is planning to make the most of the tournament is Afix, a foreign currency trading market. During the World Cup, Afix is offering flexible working options to employees, giving them the opportunity to take time off to watch matches and make up the hours at a later date.

Afix operations manager Stewart Lancaster said: "The management team decided that there were only two options for employees during the World Cup: block news websites to prevent staff from streaming matches online or give employees a chance to enjoy the matches, and consequently improve staff morale. We chose the latter and now employees are currently arranging events to watch the matches together. When this happens, management will be ‘manning the phones' to ensure that the quality of our customer service remains the same. With technology making it so easy for people to get football updates anyway, it would have been unwise to deny our employees the chance to enjoy the tournament."