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Coping With Likely Absences During a National Sporting Event

Last year we had the Winter Olympics and the Football World Cup. This year we have the Rugby World Cup. Not only is England hosting it this year but three of the games will be played in Milton Keynes. The first game is only a few days away now (18th September).

Not everyone enjoys watching sport but when a major sporting event is being held in the UK more people tend to get behind it than normal, especially when the home teams manage to make it through to the final stages of the tournament.

Bill Shankley was famously quoted as saying: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Many football fans agree with Mr Shankley’s sentiments (I couldn’t possible comment!) and will do almost anything to watch an important game. Employers regularly have to brace themselves to manage absences arising from a game taking place in work hours or the effects of too much celebration or commiseration (as the case may be) the morning after a game.

Before any large sporting event, it is worth putting some guidelines in place.

  • Be flexible. Businesses with a large number of Gen X and Gen Y employees are often short staffed the day after a big game. Offer flexible work hours when it’s possible (and reasonable) to do so.
  • Make clear to employees what your rules and expectations are about watching a sporting event at work. Will you allow employees to watch games in the workplace? Those eager to keep an eye on what is happening will tell you that it won’t be a distraction to have it on their pc in the background. While it may not be for them, for others it can be a distraction and quite irritating. Explain to your employees the rules around watching games on workplace computers and what action may be taken if employees breach the rules. In some cases it may be more realistic to have a screen set up in the staff rest area and plan work breaks around the game.
  • Reinforce the rules covering the use of mobile phones in the workplace. It is normal that personal mobile phones cannot be used during working hours. There should be no exception for checking the scores during a game.
  • Some employees may have booked time off to go and see matches. If you have received multiple requests for the same date follow your normal holiday procedure. This will usually be on a first come first served basis. If it is not possible to book holiday some employees may ask about swapping shifts with another employee. If you allow this to happen you should make it clear what the rules are, i.e. only swapping with someone in the same department and ensuring that the work is covered properly. Provide details of who should authorise changes and how the swap should be recorded.
  • There may be some occasions where it is not possible to accommodate all requests for time off or shift swaps and this may well result in a number of absences on that day. While some employees may be genuinely ill, if some have been refused time off and then say they have been taken ill, alarm bells tend to ring. Reserve the right to explore all such absences and if you consider it appropriate, take formal action.
  • You may wish to get all the team together to do something to celebrate the Rugby World Cup. It could be a good opportunity to do some team building. For example, have everyone together one evening to watch an important game and maybe get some food for everyone to share.

And one last tip – enjoy the game!

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