There are so many ‘occasions’ nowadays I find it increasingly difficult to get excited by the prospect of any particular event. But the boy in me still thinks of the World Cup as something special. 1966 was the first tournament I can properly remember, my nine year old self never doubting an England victory, though 1970 and the brilliance of the Pele generation of Brazilians remains my internal default setting for what the World Cup is, or at least should be, all about. Personally speaking, the adrenaline level has dropped in recent years simply because globalised televised sport means we regularly see all the top players, eliminating the surprise factor that competitive international matches once brought. Nonetheless, I anticipate a month of late nights and bleary eyed mornings as events in Brazil unfold.
Judging from the usual welter of ‘how to manage staff through the World Cup’ reports in recent weeks, British bosses expect many of their employees will be similarly footie focused between now and July 13th. The general tenor of this stuff is apocalyptic: without effective management, absence rates will soar while lateness, hangovers and time spent at work checking out news on the latest England injury scare will hit productivity. But is this really likely, or leastways is it really worth worrying about? I doubt it.
For one thing, people nowadays are used to combining work with increasingly active social lives which are jam packed with the enjoyment of entertainment of various kinds. Most behave sensibly, which is why employers don’t have to develop policies to manage staff through the Glyndebourne season or Glastonbury week. But more importantly, indulgence in a bit of collective interest not directly focused on the daily grind may well make staff more, not less, engaged and productive in their jobs.
Casual empiricism has always suggested that sporting achievement or excitement lifts the mood in both the nation and the workplace. Evidence for this in the form of an economic dividend is less apparent (for example, whatever the legacy of the 2012 London Olympics it clearly didn’t do anything to boost the UK’s dire labour productivity performance). However, the good workplace is not measured by short-term financial indicators alone but also by the immediate and long-term wellbeing of the workforce. Far sighted employers will recognise this and offer a bit of slack to staff to live a little and enjoy the World Cup with family, friends and work colleagues. The short-sighted will instead issue memos on proper behaviour and conduct of the type that have turned so many UK workplaces into rules driven target obsessed fiefdoms that inspire control freak managers but turn staff into disengaged stress victims. Society should blow the whistle on this type of management and kick-off toward a new way of working for the UK.