The last few months of the year are usually dominated by the run-up to the festive break. But this year is going to be slightly different, with the added spectacle of a first-ever winter football World Cup.

Normally, football’s World Cup would be taking place over the balmy summer months. This year however, football fans will be swapping their shorts and sandals for festive jumpers and woolly hats as they watch the sporting drama unfold – at least, here in the UK! And of course, with 32 nations taking part, including England and Wales, it’s forecast to be one of the world’s most-watched competition!

This is likely to create headaches for hard-working HR and line managers. November and December are often tremendously busy months for many businesses – particularly those in retail or service-based industries. The rush to close off the year on a high or maintain adequate staffing levels over the hectic Christmas period can put line managers and HR teams under huge amounts of pressure – especially when it comes to managing absences fairly and effectively.

How HR can help keep employees onside during the World Cup Cezanne HR blog

This year’s Winter World Cup certainly isn’t going to help matters. For example, what will be your company’s policy on allowing people to watch crucial games if they take place during working hours?  How do you deal with employees who might over celebrate and come into work hungover, or even fail to turn up at all? And what about managing any last-minute annual leave requests from excited football fans within your organisation?

It may be the season to be jolly, but the World Cup coupled with a frantic festive period could be unwelcome gifts for HR…

Balancing the needs of the business with the requests of employees

Whilst many employees would relish time off to enjoy the excitement of a winter World Cup, many employers won’t be able to afford that luxury.

Employers are not obliged to grant every holiday requests – whether that’s to watch World Cup matches or take a break to get away from it! The simple fact of the matter is that an organisation may need all hands-on deck to remain productive and profitable as the year draws to a close. That being said, this year’s winter World Cup does present a valuable opportunity for organisations to support meaningful staff engagement and improve team morale at a potentially pressurised time of year.

So, how can line managers and HR maintain vital productivity and keep up morale amongst footy-mad staff, who, let’s face it, would rather be relaxing and watching the world’s biggest football tournament? Here are some tried and tested actions you can take which will help keep employees onside and motivated…

Be transparent and honest

If certain nations progress into the latter stages of the tournament, some line managers may receive a flurry of annual leave requests from excited employees. However, they may find turning down a holiday request to be awkward or uncomfortable – especially if staffing levels are already low.

In these situations, it’s vital line managers address the situation with the employee head on so not to create an ongoing issue. Perhaps too many employees from a department are already taking leave during this period, or maybe a major project needs finishing before the New Year?

Regardless of the reasons, transparency and honesty are key to managing employees who may be disappointed by having to work, rather than watch (or recover from) the football. By explaining to the employee why they’re needed, they can help dampen the blow and your employees will feel more valued as a result.

Allow flexible working…

Offering flexible working arrangements can be an effective compromise for those who don’t want to miss out on the World Cup. For example, if a crucial game kicks off in the middle of a normal workday, and if it’s possible at your business, why not consider allowing staff to start and end their working days a little earlier – or bank overtime so they can take time off in lieu to watch the matches. This would allow your football fans to complete their weekly hours and allow them to watch a match – a win-win for everyone!

If you haven’t considered flexible working before, it gives employees the opportunity to fit their working schedule around their personal life: whether that’s spending more time with their kids during the Christmas holidays, or letting them choose their own hours to fit around their own activities. By giving them more control to manage their own work life balance, you can keep employee morale high whilst work continues to get done.

Have a clear, consistent and accessible absence policy

Did you know there’s research that shows more than half of UK adults (56%) have “pulled a sickie” at least once in the last year to enjoy a day off work? If you do find employees taking unplanned or unauthorised absences to enjoy World Cup matches, you may have to take disciplinary action.

Having a clear, easily accessible absence policy – as well as absence management software to manage it effectively – can help reduce the chances of this happening. It ensures everyone will understand your stance on absences, be them planned, unplanned or unauthorised.

In addition, ensure your line managers are well-versed in your organisation’s formal policy and procedure for dealing with unplanned or unauthorised absences. If they are unclear about the process they need to follow, there’s a danger your policy will be applied inconsistently – potentially driving resentment from those diligent employees who have had to take up the slack!

Consider temporary shift swaps

If you have staff that work shifts, another thing to consider is allowing shift swapping between employees. Although the World Cup is a globally-popular event, not everyone watches or cares about football. So, your line managers could – where permissible of course – suggest employees look to swap shifts with a non-football lover should they want to take time away to watch a game.

Get creative with World Cup activities

Of course, not every role lends itself to flexible hours. If your employees are meeting clients face to face, greeting visitors, or busy on the shop floor, working unconventional hours may not be feasible.

Putting on World Cup-themed activities, big or small, is a great way to raise spirits amongst those who have to remain in at work. The traditional World Cup sweepstake is a staple of company culture, but smaller activities – such providing match day snacks from the countries competing on the day, or screening games in the workplace – can help maintain morale and build a sense of comradery, too.

If your staff work remotely, it is good to involve them too. For example, at Cezanne HR we run our own fantasy football league every year – and it always proves hugely popular, even if the writer of this blog always does terribly badly…

Relax the dress code

For those employees not in customer facing roles and working in a shared workspace, relaxing any dress code your organisation has – rather than enforcing the usual attire – can also have an uplifting affect. And why stop there?

Encouraging employees to wear the jerseys of their national team can be bit of harmless, fun that will help boost morale amongst those employees who feel as if they’re missing out on the festival of football outside of work.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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