CHICAGO, June 24, 2014 — Millions of Americans could be watching the US soccer team take on Germany this Thursday in a match that will play a crucial role in deciding the team’s fate in the World Cup. The problem is the big game will played mid-day on Thursday, when many of those watching the broadcast or internet stream should be working. So, what can the nation’s employers do to prepare for the potential collapse in productivity?
Probably nothing, according to one workplace expert.
“Employers may simply want to prepare for the fact that many workers could be taking an extended lunch on Thursday. Other employers will probably notice a significant drop off in internet speeds, as bandwidth is consumed by multi-tasking employees attempting to get work done while streaming the game at their desks,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
“On the bright side, employers can be thankful that soccer games are relatively short, compared to other sporting events, with most lasting just a couple of hours as opposed to football and baseball games that can last more than four hours,” said Challenger.
In the past, World Cup soccer was not even on the radar for employers worried about productivity. However, the sport has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years. Nearly 16 million Americans tuned into America’s match against Ghana, according to Nielson statistics. It is estimated that another 470,000 streamed the game to their computers, tablets and smartphones via WatchESPN.
The impact on productivity is nearly impossible to measure in terms of dollars and cents.
“First, we do not know how many Americans will tune in to the game. Even if we assume there will be at least 16 million viewers, matching the number of those who watched the US vs. Ghana, we don’t know how many of those are employed and should be working. Some may be taking a vacation day or others may work a late shift,” noted Challenger.
In a conservative estimate that assumes half of the 16 million viewers are employed and on the clock, a two-hour “break” during the workday to watch the game will cost employers about $390 million in lost wages. That figure is based on average hourly earnings of $24.38 in May, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (8,000,000 X $48.76)
“Even if twice as many working Americans end up watching the game, it is unlikely that employers will actually see an impact on their bottom line. Employees will simply make up that time somewhere else. Today’s ultra-portable and always-on technology allows people to work from anywhere at anytime. If anything, American’s World Cup fever will end up being a boost to the economy as workers head to bars, restaurants and taverns to watch the game. All of that extra spending will more than offset any impact the game has on productivity,” said Challenger.
Challenger would advise employers against making attempts to squash workers’ ability to watch the game.
“Whatever positive impact companies realize by instituting a strict one-hour lunch break policy or by blocking access to WatchESPN, will be undone by the negative impact on employee morale and loyalty. Employers should instead embrace this as an opportunity to boost morale. For example, many companies close early on Fridays in the summer, due to slowdowns in business. So, why not allow employees who want to watch the game to change their short day to Thursday?
“Employers can also have a television showing the game in the break room or in a conference room. Others may want to relax the dress code and allow workers to wear USA team gear. After all, this is unlike the NCAA basketball tournament or Super Bowl, in that this is not just some random team with diehard fans in a specific city. This is our national team and they are attempting to defy the odds by advancing in the World Cup. What employer can’t get behind that,” Challenger concluded.
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