How the World Cup can boost workplace engagement

The U.S. is sitting this one out, but don’t let that stop you from using the world’s most-anticipated sporting spectacle as a vehicle to bolster morale, creativity and camaraderie.  

The World Cup is a vibrant, gut-wrenching affair that has a knack for turning apathetic bystanders into flag-waving lunatics.

The quadrennial event—which features an irresistible blend of spicy political intrigue, geographical rivalry, historical beefs, compelling underdogs and (sometimes) intercultural amity—makes for riveting programming. It’s easily the world’s most “widely viewed” sporting event, and this year’s extravaganza (hosted by Russia) promises plenty of thrilling drama.

Every four years, workplace leaders worldwide face a dilemma: Should we try to suppress World Cup excitement for the sake of productivity, or just ride the tidal wave of fútbol fever?

If you’re keen on the latter, try these tips to use the event as a springboard for greater collaboration, camaraderie and engagement:

Loosen up. Employers are under no legal obligation to let employees watch soccer matches, but come on. According to The Guardian, “The World Cup is as an opportunity for employers to improve engagement with their staff and boost morale.” It’s also a chance to make or break employees’ perception of the company. Clamping down on streaming, denying time-off requests or creating an atmosphere hostile toward World Cup enthusiasm is a great way to make employees miserable. If you make your people miss a moment like this, good luck with your Glassdoor ratings.

Alternatively, The Guardian suggests commonsense compromises, including “employees making time up if they left early, home-working, a swapping of shift patterns, or simply allowing staff to listen to the radio and/or watch live matches.”

Set rules in advance. Let your workers know what the company’s expectations are. If you plan to allow soccer fans to take time off during matches, expect a contingent of non-fans to say, “Can we get the time off too?” Plan and (re)schedule priority projects accordingly.

Gravitas HR advises: “Don’t be casual how you make these arrangements. If you’re going to ask them to make up the time, be absolutely clear. Think about re-allocation of tasks, lost productivity and how you’re going to make up for them.”

If your plan is to wing it, to ignore the World Cup or just to ride out the month without solid guidelines, your HR referees might end up having to deal with a rash of violent slide tackles around the office.

Create social events around the games, or make a tourney of your own. Use the occasion to celebrate international flavor(s). Organize trips to the local pub to watch a match, or set up a TV in the office so colleagues can watch games together. Doing so just might boost office productivity and collaboration.

You might consider setting up an office pool for a bit of friendly competition, or at least letting employees pick a participating country out of a hat, as Ragan Executive Editor Rob Reinalda suggests. He also proposes posting a world map in the office, letting staffers tack up their names to convey favored-nation status.

Creating brackets can boost creativity, so feel free to tally votes for “best World Cup hairstyle,” “most egregious flops,” or perhaps a borscht eating competition to honor this year’s hosts. Either way, the stakes can be a lunch, gift card, a PTO day or maybe a giant Tupperware full of leftover borscht.

How do you plan to handle this year’s World Cup at your workplace? Feel free to leave goal-scoring guidance below.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.