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Does the World Cup lessen workforce productivity?

01 July 2014

By Liza van Wyk

Every four years in June, the world is brimming with the enticing FIFA Soccer World Cup that employees wish to watch.

Given the location of Brazil – five hours behind South Africa - this can cause headaches when the desire to watch the game conflicts with employees’ duty to be at work on time and be productive during the day.

The effect of sport on a nation cannot be underestimated. Sport unite any nationsocially, culturally and economically, But workplace productivity is something that is always on employers' minds, during major sporting events like the World Cup.

In the absence of workforce surveys measuring productivity during the World Cup, there is no doubt that the games are among the most popular sporting events and offer a range of events appealing to a wide cross section of fans.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that sport can be used to improve the health of the general population, provide activities for young people for whom boredom so often leads to antisocial behaviour, low-level crime and, on occasion, substance abuse, and it can also unite otherwise bitterly divided factions within communities.

Sport, if seen as an industry like any other and not just a pastime, can help kick-start a number of other industries. With a catchment of millions, companies from home and abroad will be keen to invest in sport; to have their names displayed beside football pitches, or their companies credited with the financing of arenas and competitions.

Hosting nations and sports-loving people the world over will understandably steal some work time to keep current with the events. Many will turn up late for work, leave early, miss deadlines, report sick or some will plan their workday around taking a breather to cheer on the footballers.

Ultimately it is the employer's decision about how they manage events such as the World Cup, and while it would be fantastic to be able to sit at home and follow some games on television, all employees and employers must adhere to the parameters of their employment contracts.

Given this one must then look at the contractual relationship between employers and employees. At its most basic level, a typical employment contract stipulates that the employee shows up in the morning (between 8 and 9am) and works under the employer's reasonable instructions and then leaves at about 5 p.m. In return, the employee is paid by the employer.

Unauthorised absences are normally misconduct issues under either the contract of employment or (by extension) the employer's disciplinary policy or procedure. So unauthorised skipping work to watch sport is potentially (depending on the specific circumstances of the case) grounds for discipline subject to adhering at all times to the provisions of the disciplinary code.

However, employers should be careful not to automatically categorise sickness absence during sporting events (or otherwise) as not "genuine".

If there are suspicions about an employee's absences, employers should investigate the matter by questioning the employee when he or she initially reports the absence, or by conducting return-to-work interviews, which can help identify short-term absence problems at an early stage. Insistence on medical certificates and the verification thereof is another technique used by many employers where there is concern around sick leave abuse.

At work, there are many ways to gain access to the happenings, ranging from smartphones to online viewing. The question is, do the benefits exceed the cost of lost productivity?

Sport ‘s natural ability to bring people together, provide hope, aid the mind, body and spirit, and make a positive economic social and economic contribution, has not been lost on those who wish to work toward successful companies and building better societies.

Liza van Wyk is CEO of AstroTech Training who offer management and leadership training. Visit AstroTech Training or call 0861 AstroTech.