On the evidence of their first two World Cup matches, football fans may be forgiven for deciding that if England were playing at the bottom of their garden, they’d draw their curtains (to paraphrase the great Bill Shankly). Yet employers are facing up to the prospect of thousands of workers calling in sick tomorrow (some estimates are as high as 1.5m) so they don’t have to miss the vital World Cup qualifier.
Now we’re slightly sceptical about how widespread this problem will be – after all, it’s going to be pretty obvious if you suddenly develop the lurgy. But surely the answer is relatively straightforward anyway, for most companies: just let staff watch the game as long as they make up the time later?
Lots of companies are doing this, of course: some are even hoping to win a few brownie points by screening the game for their staff (although if recent evidence is anything to go by, that’s hardly a perk). But it’s not true across the board. For example, a survey by the London Chambers of Commerce has apparently found that two-thirds of firms are not planning to make any special arrangements for the game, which kicks off at 3pm on Wednesday. That runs the risk of your staff either calling in sick, as more than 5% are brazenly planning over the course of the tournament according to recruiters Badenoch & Clark, or showing up but being extremely annoyed with you (in which case, Fabio Capello might not be the only boss facing a challenge to his authority).
Believe it or not, the TUC has been a voice of reason on this thorny issue; general secretary Brendan Barber says managers should discuss the issue with their teams ‘to avoid any tensions’, ultimately allowing people to ‘watch the games if they like, and then claim back their time afterwards’. And this isn’t just because of the World Cup, he adds: ‘Allowing people more flexibility in how and when they do their work makes them happier, cutting absenteeism and raising productivity for their employers.’ Hear hear.
Of course, for some firms it might not be as easy as that. Perhaps they need some people there between 3 and 5, or perhaps they’re up against an urgent deadline and they can’t afford to let people make up the time later. Training specialist Sneha Khilay also points out that non-football fans shouldn’t lose out – if they need the time off for a different reason, there’s no reason why England fans should take priority. Equally, if some staff take time off to watch the match (and don’t make it up later), non-fans should get the same amount of time off at some point.
So employers need to tread carefully. But it’s nothing that a little common sense can’t solve, regardless of some of the hysterical headlines about how disruptive England’s inevitable march to the second round/ spawny victory/ ignominious failure will be.
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