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Has your workplace experienced an outbreak of the ‘World Cup Flu’?

world-cupAre your employees suffering from the “World Cup Flu”? Is there an unusually high rate of absenteeism in your office these days?

As any soccer fan knows, the FIFA World Cup is currently being played live during the day. Not surprisingly, studies show that absenteeism soars during special events such as the World Cup.

This may concern some employers, since the tournament is a month long (June 11 to July 11), and there are initially three or four group matches (along with pre- and post-shows) per day! (See how the broadcast schedule compares with your employees’ work habits.)

What’s more, workers can easily watch the games online at their work computers. This means that employees may be effectively absent while at work, engaging in “virtual absenteeism”.

There is no vaccine for World Cup Flu, and there’s not much that can be done once a person catches it. The symptoms include: a desperate need to watch as many games as possible; the inability to talk about anything but soccer; devotion to at least one team; and the inability to sit still or speak to anyone while a game starts. At the height of the flu, judgment may become impaired, and a person may be tempted to call in sick and miss work to watch a game.

I confess: I am a passionate soccer fan, and I have contracted the World Cup Flu. I can understand what goes through a fan’s mind once the tournament has begun. But I can also see the employer’s side of things: work must get done!

In my experience as both a devoted fan and committed employee, I’ve found the only way to resolve this dilemma during the work week is to watch the repeats after work. All the games are replayed in the evening. However, soccer enthusiasts who take this route must make sure that they do not talk to anyone about sports results or watch, listen to, or read any news until they get home to watch the game(s). Also, flex time allows me to start work very early and catch at least some of the last game of the day.

But there are ways that employers can minimize the impact and even create opportunities for employee engagement.

One solution may be to create a “Don’t Talk About Soccer Games at Work Policy” and encourage employees to watch the encores after work. That way, they can enjoy the games in complete and private bliss as they take in the background buzzing of the vuvuzelas.

Employers could also encourage employees to use their unused vacation time or any accumulated time in lieu of overtime to enjoy the matches live.

Alternatively, employers could implement a flex-time policy for employees, at least during the World Cup or for the critical games near the end of the tournament.

It may be a neat idea to get involved in the occasion by having casual Fridays where employees sport the jerseys of their favourite teams. Or perhaps show some enthusiasm and have a World Cup party during a match that is important to the majority of the employees.

This way, employers may be able to dodge the problem of having employees reach the height of World Cup Flu, where they lose their ability to reason and miss work. But if the outbreak has hit hard, it might be too late. Employers may find that the rate of physical or virtual absenteeism is out of control and can only be stopped by disciplining employees for unauthorized absences. If so, employers are recommended to start with a warning and escalate from there.

I’m wondering: are your employees suffering from the World Cup Flu? If so, how have you contained it in your workplace?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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