The World Cup and business… A friendly match?

Alex Johnston | 13th July 2018

The World Cup is here! And with an estimated 3.5 billion tuning in over the course of the tournament, it is the most watched event ever across the world. Until the final on the 15th of July, you can expect discourse around the beautiful game to dominate coffee breaks, hallway run-ins and desk chat up and down the country.

With the assumption that 50% of each countries workforce will be interested in watching the games and that normal working hours are between 9 am to 5 pm, a massive $14.5 billion of GDP is estimated to be at risk in just the first two weeks of the tournament.

What should businesses do to ensure the World Cup does not have a negative impact on attendance, productivity and mood? And can they capitalise on the collective hysteria that sweeps us all in a positive way?

Is it all about winning?

After so many years of failing on the biggest stage you would think that the hype surrounding the English National team should be on the wane. And yet the excitement, fervour and inescapable hope gripping the nation right now is palpable; even amongst the most scarred and weary fans.

There is an extensive range of psychological studies out there linking sporting success to fan self-esteem and therefore productivity. Posten (1998) claims sporting success causes an improvement in disposition due to association and affiliation. This is worrying news for England…

In 1966 just after our greatest triumph in football, Harold Wilson claimed his electoral victory and subsequent economic success was in part due to the wave of euphoria that gripped the nation after lifting the Jules Rimet.

A study was done in 2003 by Ashton, J.K investigating the relationship between the English National football team and the FTSE 100 between 1984 and 2002 (Ashton et al 2003). A strong positive correlation was found between English victories and trading the following day, with more important games begetting stronger correlations. During major tournaments (Euros and World Cup) the return for a win was +0.27%, a draw was -0.21% and after a loss -4.15%. The day after Ronaldinho dispatched us from the world cup in 2002 (it was a shot) the FTSE echoed the national feeling of grief by falling 1.38%. A strong example of how happiness is a pre-cursor to organisational success.

Talking sport

The dialogue circulating work environments during this year’s world cup is sure to be commonplace.  This type of casual chit-chat can act as a catalyst to break down social and hierarchical barriers within the workplace.  It can provide the means of initiating contact and spurring on conversation, providing an in-road to the formation of productive working relationships.

It is important to note that those who are not engaged by the World Cup can sometimes feel isolated from discussions, especially in a team environment. It is important to generate a feeling of inclusiveness in other ways for these people and engage them about other passions.

It appears that a big part of whether employees will feel included or excluded by this World Cup is by the attitude they themselves have towards it. There is a lesson here for business leaders too. Many employers are missing a trick by not taking advantage of the potential excitement and connection the tournament can have. The attitude that employees are paid to work during their office hours with no room for manoeuvre will provoke resentment and damage loyalty.

Fixture Clashes

One of the biggest draining factors the world cup will have on businesses is fixtures taking place during normal work hours. The temptation for die-hard fans to use their annual leave or worse pull a desperate sickie to watch that all important match will be real. Unfortunately, there is little an employer can do to prevent the fanatics getting their way.

Employers should take a leaf out of Neville Chamberlin’s book and use a strategy of appeasement. Giving staff a bit of leeway to engage themselves in the World Cup whilst at work will build trust and prevent people from deserting the office for the vital games. This way you ensure control, whilst creating a better work-life balance for your people.

Brazils government allows State workers to adjust their hours for when the national team competes. They have recognised the economic reality that people will sacrifice spreadsheets for diving cheats and adjusted accordingly to make the best out of the situation. Both Peru and Panama declared national holidays following their qualification for this year’s World Cup, reflecting the jubilation of their citizens and allowing them the time to celebrate. I am not suggesting that employers start throwing free holidays around, but this attitude of embracing the World Cup and taking advantage of the positive effects it can have on people is a smart ploy.

What next?

Football and the World Cup are tightly intertwined into our culture, not only in the UK but around the globe. It helps us to create bonds and connect with one another, it helps to motivate us and enhance creativity. Like it or not, it directly impacts our morale and performance. It is important we embrace our odd captivation with the most beautiful game and take advantage of the positives rather than fight against the negatives.

  • Encourage conversation about the tournament. It allows people to bond and move into a relaxed frame of mind, increasing creativity.
  • Set up a TV screen in the office. The collective energy generated by watching sport as a group can do wonders to boost morale and bonding around the office.
  • Organise a sweepstake. Introducing an element of internal competition will captivate staff on a deeper level and allow those who don’t follow football as closely to wet their feet and get involved.

Think of this year’s World Cup as an opportunity. Use it to help you improve engagement, nurture a stronger sense of community and build relationships for the long term. The benefits of having this strategy are harder to quantify than lost working hours. But take note that the most important aspect of enjoying the World Cup and sport in general, are often intangible. And so, the true costs and benefits of this year’s World Cup certainly can’t be measured in dollars.