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Employers should prepare for an increase in absenteeism and in annual leave requests during World Cup

With World Cup fever growing in the run up to the South Africa Tournament, almost one in four employees is planning on watching football matches during work hours.

According to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 53% of working males and one in five females (21%) intend to watch the 2010 World Cup matches scheduled to take place during office hours as they happen, Overall, 39% of workers said they intend to watch these games.

The poll of 1,000 staff shows while some employees (14%) will be watching at work with permission from their employer, a minority (5%) intends to watch without permission or call in sick. Employers can also expect significant numbers of staff to take annual leave (9%) or use flexible working policies to take time off (11%).   

Michael Rendell, partner and leader, human resource services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: "Employers anticipating a spike in annual leave requests and absenteeism among football fans need to plan for the impact on staffing and productivity. There is huge goodwill to be gained from accommodating flexible working requests or allowing staff to take a couple of hours out to watch the games. With pay rises scarce and bonus pools down, this is a great way to thank and engage staff while bringing a very tangible opportunity to revisit and communicate flexible working policies.

"Putting screens up in workplaces or encouraging online viewing are relatively easy ways to give office-based employees access to the games in real time. Organisations that rely on mobile salespeople or shop-floor staff, for example, will face more of a challenge but making early arrangements will help mitigate this.

"In addition to careful planning, fairness is critical - not everyone is interested in football and those who aren't might appreciate the opportunity to pick up overtime covering for absent colleagues or time off to do charity work. 

"Not all matches will take place during office hours so those businesses operating outside nine-to-five hours, particularly pubs, should ask employees about their plans now as they may need to bring in temporary staff."