With the eagerly anticipated football World Cup in Brazil fast approaching, how will this major sporting event impact your employees and, in turn, your business? It was estimated that the World Cup in 2006 cost British business up to £4 billion in lost productivity. As a result, employers took steps to address this at the last World Cup in South Africa and with under 2 months until the start of Brazil 2014, now is the time to start planning again.

Impact on retailers

Employees from all parts of your business will be enthralled by the tournament, be it head office, store, warehouse or maintenance staff. Retailers often have very diverse workforces and as such, it is not just a case of planning for England matches. Knock-out matches are likely to be of interest to all football fans, whichever country is playing.

Fortunately, for many employers, most matches are scheduled to kick off in the afternoon or evening UK time, which will limit some of the disruption that was experienced during previous World Cups. However, the impact will be more widespread amongst retailers, as staff regularly work later shifts, night shifts and weekends.

Many employees will disregard company policies and watch the matches that interest them. This results in increased absenteeism (both unauthorised and sickness), lateness and breaches of Internet usage and alcohol/drugs policies, all of which will impact productivity and the running of your business.

How to approach the World Cup

You are under no obligation to cater for your employees’ interest in the tournament. You may not wish to accommodate football fans by allowing flexible time requests and further actions set out below. If this is the case, you should communicate this and your reasoning to staff. This may include the fact that you want to avoid distractions at work. In addition, you should emphasise, for example, a zero-tolerance approach to employees using the internet to watch games during working hours and the disciplinary procedures in place.

However, retailers who take a hard-line approach run the risk of creating resentment amongst staff that will impact employee morale,  productivity and, most importantly, customer service.

It is a major sporting event and it is worth considering how you can appease staff without affecting the running of your business. Being flexible can give you more control over your workforce, as well as lessening the number of absences and last minute holiday requests. Put simply, an employee is less likely to call in sick if they know they will be able to watch the big game. This can be used to boost morale, and in turn productivity.


There are a number of steps that you can consider to help employees enjoy the tournament, whilst ensuring your business is not disrupted. These include:

  • Shift swaps –  Not everyone is a football fan and should an employee find someone who is happy to swap shifts, this can be a simple way to ensure that staffing levels are maintained;
  • Leave – encourage employees to take days off as annual leave, or consider offering unpaid leave;
  • Flexible hours – alter start and finish times, where possible, to allow employees to watch games;
  • Screen games live – employees are less likely to be absent if they know they can watch games at work. This enables you to control the environment in which your employees watch games. This may not be practical for store staff or warehouse workers, however this can, in many cases be facilitated for office staff;
  • Set expectations – make it clear that you will not tolerate unauthorised absence, lateness, poor performance or any misuse of alcohol. Remind employees that it is unacceptable to call in sick in order to watch games, and that no employee should attend work whilst under the influence of alcohol;
  • Policies – remind employees of your policies (absence, IT usage, alcohol/drugs) and disciplinary procedures. Ensure that they are aware that abuse of these policies will not be tolerated and that disciplinary procedures will be maintained;
  • Communication – tell employees about your plans and set deadlines for leave and flexible working requests. This will allow you to plan ahead and enable you to manage staffing levels more efficiently; and
  • Impartial – be fair when responding to requests for time off and avoid favouritism. Ensure that you do not inadvertently discriminate against employees on the basis of nationality. Remember that not everyone is a football fan, so be careful not to marginalise these employees during the tournament.

However, if you do not wish to encourage employees to get swept up in football fever, remember:

  • if an employee calls in sick during the tournament,  check the TV listings for what matches are on during the period of absence and ask a number of questions about their symptoms and be sure to hold a return to work interview, which will act to discourage employees from being dishonest;
  • to be consistent and communicate reasons for not allowing requests for time off to follow the tournament; and
  • it is your decision and you should remind employees of the disciplinary consequences of breaching your policies.