Summer of Sport 2016: how to stop productivity taking a dive

Summer is almost upon us and this one brings a raft of sport with it! Euro 2016, the Olympics, Test cricket, the strawberries and cream of Wimbledon and Le Grand Tour are just some events that could see your employees incessantly checking Twitter, live feeds, their mobiles - all to get a glimpse of the action.

But while they're checking these platforms, they are missing key working time and ensuring your productivity is as effective as England's record in penalty shootouts. How then, can employers guard against and minimise these risks?

Disruption to businesses

Realistically, preparation for the summer's feast of sport should be in place throughout the UK's businesses already because it is not a new phenomenon. We've all worked in a place where conversations have moved towards how people interested in such sports can get the time off at such short notice. 

If England move through an international tournament, is there a way the person can take time off / watch said event at work? Similar questions ensue when an employee's favourite athlete progresses in the Olympics. The end result, if an employer isn't prepared, is a drop in productivity or attendance

Absence during major sporting events is not a new trend and is not confined to the UK. 

Workforce Management Expert Neil Pickering wrote about this as far back as two years ago and he emphasised the need to plan properly for these events. "Don't plan to kick off any big, bold initiatives for Monday morning after a big sporting event. Instead, proactively bring up the possibility of absences in the week before and ask that anyone planning a late night let them know now whether they'll be coming in later or not at all on Monday."

This flexibility is a key component for employers when planning sporting events and is something we'll revisit later. 

In terms of disruption, the indicators already in place show that absence is a pre-existing problem that could be exacerbated by the eagerness to watch a major tournament.
 [BQ]Employers should be thinking of how temporarily relaxing the rules can have positive returns for their business. They should look at how they can allow staff to watch relevant matches or events - whether it's to work flexibly or on a company provided TV.

In America, the effects of sporting fever are keenly felt by employers, with one particular time of year causing problems.

The day after the Superbowl is notorious for absenteeism, highlighted in 2014 with predictions that 1.5 million people would pull a sickie the day after. There have even been calls to declare this day a national holiday in order to minimise the damage it can have on employers. 

The problem is, according to Joyce Maroney, Director of the Workforce Institute: "When someone doesn't show up, I'm not just replacing the wages. I'm paying that much more." This can be in the form of overtime, or emergency wages just so the work gets done. 

A summer like 2016 with the different events throughout the next three months brings this into sharp focus in a country that has published recent surveys showing the problem of absences, even before taking into account significant sporting occasions. 

Findings from XpertHR, based on data from 670 companies show in each year, 2.8% of working time is taken up by absences, at an average cost of £16 billion. In addition, the CIPD's Absence Management Survey for 2015 said the average median cost of absence per employee last year was £554.

Now, these absences will inevitably include legitimate ailments but it shows the strain that already exists on employers and their finances. 

Employers plans to cope with sporting summer

The added disruption of England threatening to become one of the best eight teams on the continent could cost a business even more. So how will employers deal with the summer of sport? 

We have canvassed the opinion of various employers and HR professionals to get the lowdown on the best practices to use. 

The key according to Simon Whitehead, Founding Partner and Employment Solicitor at HRC Law, is "striking a fair balance between employee motivation and the needs of the business."

Employers know about the clamour for holidays all too well and the discomfort it can bring.

Effective management of holiday requests


Up to date policies

With these tournaments, finishing first or otherwise can hugely impact the timing of the next game / race / event. I'm certain we've all worked in an environment where this is the case which has resulted in a scramble for holiday forms. 

Certainly, employers know about the clamour for holidays all too well and the discomfort it can bring. What is consistent though is the first port of call businesses should attend to before these requests begin - their annual leave policies. 

All companies will have a holiday policy and even then, Working Time Regulations are in existence so employers can insist on the amount of notice given. 

In the absence of guidelines in a company's employment contract, common practice dictates employees need to give twice as much notice as the time they wish to take off (if one day is needed, two days' notice). Is this the right approach in these circumstances?

Probably not according to Nick Soret, Head of Employment Law & HR Consultancy Support at Natwest Mentor. He advocates "common sense", which will help to create positive working relationships going forward. 

He said: "While many employers will have rules in place which may allow it to refuse the holiday if the needs of the business dictate, applying common sense is always the best policy in this situation. If there is high demand for time on a certain day, there needs to be an assessment of whether the business can manage it."

In most cases it's impractical for a business to allow a large proportion of the workforce to take annual leave at one time, so employers may refuse requests on the grounds of the business's needs.



Method of managing holidays

This can differ from company to company. Again though, clarity is key. Employers could be flexible with this - something we will visit later - and give their employees the chance to watch football games, particular races (please don't choose the marathon), but Amy Paxton, Senior Employment Consultant at Croner, emphasised that businesses should still expect requests for leave. 

In this event, how do companies respond? Amy said: "In most cases it's impractical for a business to allow a large proportion of the workforce to take annual leave at one time, so employers may refuse requests on the grounds of the business's needs."

How is this decided then? Most companies use the tried and trusted first come, first served method. Those who are quick to put in a request must be so devoted to the sporting cause and if used right, as Smart Digital Marketing's Karam Bhart points out, can keep enthusiasm high.

He said: "Not all staff can go at once so make it fair with a first come, first serve method. It will make it easier for yourself to maintain a good enthusiasm over the summer."

If holiday policies are relaxed during this time of high demand, remember to make it absolutely clear that an exception is being made.



Different methods are used by other companies to ensure fairness, with Croner advising that random selection is another way of guaranteeing "a fair system" is in place. The company also raise another significant point regarding granting these holidays; staying mindful about discrimination.

In a multicultural place like the UK, there will be workforces that have different nationalities who may support other countries and are interested in taking time off to watch those games rather than England. It is also important, Amy said, to "ensure holidays are granted fairly, otherwise they (employers) could be guilty of sex discrimination."

If holiday leave policies are relaxed during this time of high demand, remember to make it absolutely clear that an exception is being made. The benefits should help guard against absenteeism.


Dealing with absences

Employers can put all the provisions in place, and yet it is hard to imagine it will prevent those who maybe did not get a holiday form in quick enough, or didn't submit at all before the allocation ended, pulling a sickie to see a game / event of their choice. 

As we have already seen, managers throughout the UK and beyond have absence issues to deal with. The last thing they want is for these problems added to at a time when it is common to expect other members of the workforce to be taking time off for their holidays. How should employers work against this problem?

Emphasise the importance of absence policies

HRC Law's Simon Whitehead spoke to Agency Central about the importance of good organisation to help plan for absences during the Olympics / European Championships and other sports. It will give an indication on who can take their holiday entitlement, but employers should also allow a "buffer" so that absences, genuine or otherwise, can be monitored. 

Allow a buffer for genuine employee sickness while ensuring procedures are in place to monitor those whose 'sickies' often fall on match days and warn of the consequences.



Having a strong policy that leaves employees in no doubt about how serious 'sickies' are is important. It would be good practice to let staff know, as these events approach, that taking days off ill to watch their favourite football team / swimmer / cyclist is not an acceptable excuse. 

Amy Paxton at Croner believes the absence policies should be emphasised during these times. She said: "Annual leave policies should be updated with clear guidelines issued to all employees, emphasising that unauthorised absence could lead to disciplinary action."

There is no one size fits all approach to this. Indeed, there seldom is for anything in the working world. What is important is a clear and concise policy. Does your company usually ask for a sicknote, as per its policy? This trend should continue, with the caveat that a heroic semi-final penalty failure won't suffice as a reason on said note. 

All companies deal with absences differently, but consistency is key. Karam Bhart of Smart Digital Marketing believes the "firm but fair" strategy of revoking a holiday day to pay for the unauthorised and unnecessary sick leave should be taken. "I suggest that it not be taken lightly," he said. 

This should at least ensure employees are under no illusions as to the consequences of watching the drama in the velodrome instead of compiling those important facts and figures, but there are other tactics that businesses can employ during these periods of time, especially when they matter to staff. 

Having a strong policy that leaves employees in no doubt about how serious 'sickies' are is important. It would be good practice to let staff know, as these events approach, that taking days off ill to watch their favourite football team / swimmer / cyclist is not an acceptable excuse.

Be flexible

An employer can go a long way to negating some of the potential issues above by implementing a touch of flexibility. Not only would this benefit the organisation in the short term, but the appreciation for those interested in any of the summer's sports would be remembered long-term too. 


Would employees be able to finish early on a day that fits in with their sport of choice? Perhaps working early and finishing late to make the time up would be an option. Offering shorter working hours to adapt to employee interests can go a long way. 

Incentives like this bring focus according to Smart Digital Marketing's Karam Bhart. "An early finish can be effective. Having staff battling amongst each other to reach certain targets brings a more focused mindset when giving a reward of an early finish."

Something as simple as allowing staff to swap shifts could accommodate their needs and will result in a much more engaged workforce.



The approach of staff competing each other will result in a driven workforce when striving for that finish to watch a crucial Group B game. 

We have covered flexible working at length and in a normal working scenario, it has many benefits. On occasions like this summer when requests may be out of the ordinary, alternatives to early finishes for some can be explored. Croner's Amy Paxton touches upon the positive impact this flexibility has on an organisation - discouraging absenteeism in the process.

She said: "Employers should be thinking of how temporarily relaxing the rules can have positive returns for their business. They should look at how they can allow staff to watch relevant matches or events - whether it's to work flexibly or on a company-provided TV."

A Managing Director who spoke to Agency Central is using this reward  as a way of thanking his staff for their hard work. John French of Fat Media says that, in an age where staff go out of their way to show dedication, this is an appropriate way of thanking his employees for their efforts. 

He said: "Showing the Euro 2016 matches in the Fat Media office is our way of saying thank you to our staff. Our team often go above and beyond their call of duty so there will be no requirement to make up the hours should they wish to watch a game."

This is the dream scenario for sports fans out there and shows commitment to staff that will surely be rewarded, but something as simple as allowing staff to swap shifts during the summer could accommodate their needs and will result in a much more engaged workforce. 

Communication is key. Pre-empting where issues may occur and tackling them ahead of time will help prevent being left short staffed or equally with an unmotivated team.

Employees who aren't into sport

For all the planning to keep those interested in the bumper summer happy, there are others who could not care either way how many medals Great Britain gain or whether England can win a penalty shootout. If you're one of these and your employer is going out of their way to accommodate everybody else, you've every right to feel aggrieved. 


Businesses must not neglect people who see the 100 metre final as just another Friday morning. It has been suggested that enforcing holidays for these occasions can happen in some companies. This is, according to Nick Soret, "may not be welcome if you have a number of other nationalities or people with no interest in sport working in your company."

The issue of discrimination is again raised, as it is crucial to note that not every football fan in the company is an England one. Ultimately, the key is to know your workforce and their interests.

Putting TVs in the office is again, a good idea (especially if my boss reads up to this). However, it should not distract those who don't want to take part. And obviously, those who aren't should be compensated with the same time off as those who wish to watch a sport. 

John French at Fat Media has thought about this too and said: "We realise that not every member of our staff will want to watch a football game, as not everybody is into sport. Those who don't want to watch will be given the opportunity to enjoy some downtime in our office cafes that are equipped with games, breakout areas, and fridges full of refreshments."

To conclude

It clearly isn't a simple process and employers have to be well guarded in order to make sure all bases are covered; take into account flexible working, ways in which you can accommodate staff, while also being mindful of any discrimination issues that could arise. 

Essentially though, organisation is essential to coping with the peculiar demands at this time. Making sure policies are clear before you're inundated with requests will stand you in good stead.
 
Fundamentally, according to Simon Whitehead at HRC Law: "Communication is key. Pre-empting where issues may occur and tackling them ahead of time will help prevent being left short staffed or equally with an unmotivated team."

If staff are happy, their productivity at work will increase and therefore, everybody wins. Who knows, this might even seep into the Olympics and European Championships! 

Key dates for your diary

  • European Championships: 10th June - 10th July
  • The Championships, Wimbledon: 27th June - 10th July
  • Tour de France: 2nd July - 24th July
  • British Grand Prix: 8th July - 10th July
  • The Open Championship: 14th July - 17th July
  • Olympic Games: 5th August - 21st August