Little less than a month is left before the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks-off in Brazil. As the largest single-event sport competition, it will attract an audience of nearly three billion people, among which several million UK employees who will be tested to balance passion for football with adequate job performance.

This challenge is very likely to have an impact on productivity. According to recent estimates, up to 250 million working hours will be lost due to the World Cup. Examples include rise in absence levels, late arrivals, or poor performance due to the frustration of not being able to monitor football results. How are UK businesses going to cope with this issue? A 2010 Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) survey found that 9 out 10 employers do not have policies in place to manage absence during major sport ing events. Since things seem not to have changed significantly, and considering staff absence levels during the last World Cup, there is reason to believe that disruptions and productivity loss will affect many organisations.

Which initiatives can be put in place to minimise the risk of absence? Early prevention seems to be the key to an effective strategy. Employers are advised to communicate clearly and at early stage what is considered acceptable and what it is not, reinforcing the policies they have in place – particularly those relative to internet and data monitoring. At the same time, business should also try to match the expectations of those employees who are interested in following the competition. Given the diversity of the workforce in UK, this cannot be limited only to the games where England is involved.

Promoting flexible working policies carries the advantage of not only preventing excessive rise in employee absenteeism, but it also provides an opportunity to greatly involve the workforce. Businesses, for instance, could allow employees to take some time off during the game, either as unpaid or annual leave. Likewise, staff members could be given a chance to complete their work commitments before the games, or resume their work at a later time. Allowing employees to work from home can also be considered, whereas businesses which use shift work can encourage their employees to swap shifts with colleagues according to their convenience. Last but not least, further initiatives such as return to work interviews for those employees who have been on absence during the games can also be included as part of absence management strategy.

Richard Kenny, EMEA Marketing Manager at Plantronics, says: “In recent years, flexible working has become common practice within many organisations. As both the way people work and employee expectations have changed, businesses are evolving to reflect this. Flexible working schemes can deliver real benefits to businesses today, helping them increase employee satisfaction, minimise cases of absenteeism, and lower attrition rates.

That being said, providing staff with the option to work remotely isn’t enough if these benefits are to be realised. Organisations need to equip workers with the technologies they need – tools such as wireless headsets, broadband connectivity, laptops, and unified communications-enabled devices – to enjoy virtually all the functionality they would have at the office no matter where or when they are working.”

Article by Sergio Russo