With the World Cup kicking off later this month, employers are expressing concerns about a potential increase in sick days. They’re worried that, if time-off demand outstrips supply, that people will skive. But the best approach to managing employees during the World Cup might actually be to embrace its benefits.

As always, the approach of the FIFA World Cup has brought on the usual flurry of anxiety-focused employee management pieces. What are the chances of people faking illness? How can you allocate time off fairly? What if we make it to the Finals!?!

It happens like clockwork. And not just with the football. The Olympics, Rugby, the Super Bowl, and major title fights in boxing and UFC. Chances are you employ all kinds of sports fans. And there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle them. But, to be fair, there are plenty of valid HR concerns during big sporting events:


This is the big one. Sometimes, stuff we want to do clashes with our work commitments. That’s life. But, as much as people like to pretend they’re always models of perfect professionalism, sometimes the fun thing wins out. So, obviously, there’s the risk of people pulling fake sick days to watch World Cup matches.

Absenteeism costs an average of $3,600 a year per hourly employees, and $2,660 for salaried employees. But absenteeism doesn’t just cost the business in lost hours. It shunts a missing employee’s workload onto their co-workers. So, not only is their own work slowed, but they’re also demoralised. What a winning combo.

Of course, it’s hard for HR to separate fake sick days from real ones without accidentally harassing genuinely ill employees. So, when you’re managing employees during the World Cup, prevention really is the best medicine.

Low productivity

Even if you fill your offices on match days, there’s no guarantee your people won’t be disengaged and unproductive. Whether it’s a lack of available staff, or just low morale, it all comes down to lost productivity. It’s the same principle as with discretionary effort. You can’t force high morale and engagement. Only cultivate and inspire it.

That’s actually the crux of today’s article. It’s on you to keep spirits high while people work through an exciting international sporting event. That’s the main responsibility of managing employees during the World Cup. It’s worth checking in with your people for ideas on how to do that.

Staff shortages

Absenteeism isn’t the only reason you’d have staff shortages, but the end result is the same. For some businesses, like those in the service industry, the World Cup can cause staff shortages by ramping up customer demand. Once it starts, pubs and sports bars will be filled to the brim every match day.

Another possibility is too many people taking legitimate time off. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll experience a surge in time off requests this time of year (if you haven’t already!). And the fact that it’s the run-up to Christmas will only make things worse.

The HR benefits of embracing major sporting events

If you’re used to panicking every time a World Cup or something similar rolls around, the notion they could be of benefit might sound a bit odd. But big sporting events can work wonders for employee engagement, and even wellbeing. If you play your cards right, that is.

The benefits for employee engagement

At their best, major sporting events can bring people together. That’s literally the whole point of the Olympics, for example. Managing employees during the World Cup is the perfect time to build the rapport between them. Getting to enjoy something like this together breaks down barriers. It can work wonders for communication and collaboration. Think of it as a future investment for HR and management.

Finding ways to celebrate the World Cup in the workplace can also make your people feel more valued. It shows that you acknowledge what they’re missing out on. Actions speak louder than words, and bringing the World Cup into the workplace does more than any simple “thank you” ever could.

The benefits for employee wellbeing

Sure, nobody’s going to get sick and die from missing the World Cup (although some may pretend to…). But that doesn’t mean it’s not a wellbeing issue for you to manage. Leaning into events like the World Cup can benefit both the mental and social wellbeing of your employees.

Managing employee stress can be an uphill battle at the best of times. But the morale-boosting effect of bringing things like the World Cup into the office can keep your people resilient. Getting to enjoy these matches as they’re happening (however you manage to enable it) will help carry your people through that next big crunch. And seeing England score is the kind of thing you just can’t replicate as a HR professional.

And, even if things go badly for us this year, there’s still the cameraderie of witnessing it together. This leads nicely into the social wellbeing benefits of managing employees during the World Cup. Workplace friendships make the trials and tribulations of work bearable. Research shows they make most employees happier in their roles, and can even boost productivity.

And the World Cup is the perfect time for people to bond. Back before streaming services overtook them, broadcast television worked on the idea of the “water cooler moment.” Those moments in newly broadcast episodes that people would be excited to talk about the next day. These days, it’s hard to talk about things like that at work because you might all be at different points. But, in that sense, live sports events never change.

How to make the most of managing employees during the World Cup

Managing employees during the World Cup and other big sporting events is the perfect time for HR to liven up the workplace. While it can certainly be hectic between the sick days and PTO requests, it’s your chance to boost morale.

Have the matches on at work

Let’s start with the obvious one. The simplest fix for people missing World Cup matches is to have them on. That might mean having the TV on mute if you’re watching it in the office, or it might mean listening to the radio instead. It’s about finding the best option with minimal disruption.

If you’ve got a breakroom, take full advantage of that and keep the highlights running all day. Sure, people are probably just going to keep checking on their phones anyway. But giving them these options can stymy the urge a bit.

Two notes of caution though. First, we shouldn’t need to tell you that workplace safety comes first. If there’s a possibility it causes a dangerous distraction, this one’s a no-go. And bear in mind you may need specific licensing depending on how you let employees tune into the matches.

Offer employees flexibility options

Giving flexibility options is a great way to reduce the risk of absenteeism, and to free up the holiday rota a little. Core hours or overtime can help a lot. But we expect that the most sought-after option will be remote work. It’s become insanely popular in the last couple of years, and people will prefer to watch matches in the comfort of their own home.

Remote workers tend to be at least as productive as in-office counterparts, and often voluntarily work more hours. You might be worried about distraction. But do you really think they’ll be more focused at the office?

Run a World Cup fantasy football league

Ah, fantasy football. The place where stats nerds and football fans can meet in the middle. And the World Cup is the perfect time to have some friendly in-office competition. It’s the perfect way to bring some excitement into the office.

We’d recommend against using money as a prize, though. But you should be able to find something that interests everyone on your team.

It’s the sort of thing managers can make a big show of tracking in the office. They can even put up a scoreboard to move people up and down as their fantasy line-ups overtake one-another.

Set up after-work social events

Let’s face it, even if you let people watch the matches at work, there’s still the requirement to keep things professional. Organizing after-work drinks for people to celebrate or commiserate gives them the chance to cut loose. Even if it is just for a couple of hours after work.

Consider a day off if “we” make the Finals

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. After a close shave in 2018, it would really be something if England made the Finals this year. Such a thing, in fact, that you’ll probably have a hard time getting anyone in the office if it happens.

So, you might as well be the cool HR director and push to give employees the day off. Your CEO’s mileage may vary, but you’ve got a strong case.

Celebrate international employees’ teams too

It wouldn’t be much of a World Cup if England or Wales were the only team(s). And us home nations fans aren’t the only people excited by the World Cup. If you have employees from diverse international backgrounds, you need to consider basic fairness in how you bring sporting events into the workplace.

So, for example, if you’re giving people the day off if England make the finals, you need to offer supporters of other teams a similar option. It’s probably worth checking in with people to find out who they support so you can plan that in advance.

The good news is that this is a great opportunity to explore the diversity of your workplace culture. People all have their own ways of celebrating on occasions like these. Decorations they put up, the food they eat and much more. Encourage people to bring these things into the office to liven things up. Plus, getting to try some interesting new snacks is never a bad thing!

So, there you have it. Hopefully we’ve highlighted the potential benefits of big sporting events for the workplace. At the very least, we hope it doesn’t seem like such a stressful prospect!