How To Manage World Cup Fever at Work & Kick Start Employee Engagement
The World Cup is almost here, and whilst for many of us it’s a very different prospect with the controversy surrounding many elements of the tournament, it’s still expected to be watched by 5 billion people around the world. Given the global population in 2021 was just over 7.8 billion, there’s a good chance some of your employees will want to take in some of the games if they can. So, it’s time to start thinking about the impact this can have on staff mental health, and morale as well as minimising disruption to your operations.
I don’t watch football, when is it and what’s the impact on my business?
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar sees 32 nations taking part in 64 matches from Sunday 20 November until Sunday 18 December. And this one is different on several levels:
- It’s the first-ever winter World Cup
- Holding the World Cup in Qatar is so controversial, particularly given the doubts over the legitimacy of how it secured the tournament and its record on human rights, including concerns over the treatment of women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers
- England and Wales have both qualified for the tournament; and
- England and Wales are in group B, which some are describing as the “group of death” (alongside Iran and the US, making it both the most politically charged group and the group with the highest average FIFA ranking)
- The tournament kicks off with Qatar v Ecuador on Sunday 20 November. From a UK perspective, the highest-profile clash in the group stage is Wales v England on Tuesday 29 November
What approach could my business take?
FIFA and the various countries’ FA’s have moved to address the concerns in a number of different ways, with football, not politics cited as the underlying theme. Whether you agree with the World Cup in Qatar or not, many of your staff may be planning to enjoy as many of the matches as they can.
As an employer, you also need to be aware that some groups, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, maybe feel alienated by the World Cup being held in Qatar. And others may feel that it’s simply not right for their employer to be celebrating this World Cup in any way.
It’s also important to remember that any events or changes you make should therefore be optional, and workers should not be disadvantaged or derided in any way if they don’t want to take part. This is not a straightforward World Cup, the build-up has not been the same as in previous World Cups. But, once it gets going, that’s likely to change especially if the home nations of England and Wales do well.
- Think about your staff’s mental health and morale
You can use the tournament to raise your workforce’s morale, as long as it’s not negatively impacting your operations. Why not consider:
- Screening key matches in the workplace if you can, either in meeting rooms or communal areas
- Let employees watch games together during working hours. For any remote or hybrid workers, this could include remotely doing it as teams together
- Dress the working environment up, especially if you have staff from any of the 32 nations involved
- Relax dress codes, and maybe encourage football shirts to be worn and works stations to be decorated with flags
- Let’s get flexible with the working
Why not encourage your staff to change their working patterns so they can watch games? Let’s be honest, if someone is a keen football fan (and lots of people do undergo unprecedented temporary bouts of national pride during tournaments), at one end of the scale they are going to be at least distracted by a game, and at the other end of that scale, they are going to be watching their team anyway. Being flexible could boost employee engagement:
- Finish early to watch an early-evening game; or
- Take a couple of hours off to watch a match and make up the lost time later
You may see an increase in holiday requests from employees who want time off to watch matches. Why not consider some unpaid leave as a middle ground? Another option is shift swapping (within reason).
For instance, an employee might ask to take a half day to watch a morning or an afternoon game, such as:
- Wales’s game against Iran (at 10 am on Friday 25 November); and
- England’s game against Iran (at 1 pm on Monday 21 November).
You need to treat holiday requests fairly, and a ‘first come, first granted’ approach is easy to administer and objectively fair. But you’ll need to possibly think about limits to the numbers of people from departments or teams that can be away from work at the same time.
Also, try to be flexible with holiday requests – for example by allowing requests at short notice. It may not always be feasible, but also consider we don’t know outside of the group games the confirmed line-ups and dates for the next stages yet.
- Let’s keep this operation running
The risk is of course that you may experience a reduction in productivity because some or all of your people are watching matches when they should be working. It may be a good idea to remind employees in advance about the World Cup, or in advance of key games, that they should not be watching during working hours. You can also warn them about unauthorised absence, or pulling a sickie during or the morning after matches.
Tread carefully though, even if football isn’t important to you, it may be very important to some of your staff.
- Beware the risk of discrimination during World Cup
Be aware of the potential discrimination issues that could arise. In particular, employers should ensure that:
- If you offer special arrangements for home nation fans, such as increased flexible working, you also offer the same arrangements to fans from other countries; and
- Staff are made aware that harassment linked to the event, for example, hostile or racist remarks about a particular country, will not be tolerated
The group game between Wales vs England on Tuesday 29 November (at 7 pm) is one potential flashpoint.
Be alert to the possibility of genuine sporting rivalry spilling over into something else. Employers in Wales and England could let employees know in advance of that game the standards of behaviour expected of them before, during and after the match.
- Remind employees of their responsibilities outside work
Matches will be shown in public places across the UK, including pubs and fan parks, where alcohol will be plentiful.
News of incidents and bad behaviour can spread like wildfire on social media. To reduce the risk of reputational damage, it’s good practice to remind employees that they should behave themselves outside work when watching football.
It is settled case law that employers can take disciplinary action for misconduct outside work and this is a potentially fair reason for dismissal. In the key case Post Office v Liddiard, the Court of Appeal accepted that an employee was fairly dismissed after his involvement in football hooliganism brought his employer into disrepute.
And this includes social media. We have the right to freedom of speech and expression in the UK, which also includes beliefs some people might not agree with. That doesn’t mean can say what we want though,
- Fine. I’m going to monitor them
Okay well, it’s possible, yes. However, you need to comply with data protection rules including GDPR, which means letting staff know in advance how and why you are monitoring them when you are doing it and who has access to that information. Monitoring doesn’t scream “employee engagement”, so if you don’t do it already tread very carefully.
- I’ve heard people talk about a sweepstake, can we?
Yes! There’s nothing legally wrong with hosting a sweepstake at work, however, bear in mind that not all religions partake in gambling (however trivial). Don’t force the sweepstake on any employee and respect each person’s choice to participate.
A gentle way of approaching the World Cup could be recirculating any relevant policies in advance. Whatever you choose to do, any changes should be communicated unequivocally and confirmed in writing to avoid any confusion and to avoid setting any precedent for future sporting events.
And one final thought, why not ask your staff what would work for them? Get them involved, try and find the middle ground that works for everyone and bring them into the decision-making process to foster more employee engagement.