What the World Cup Means for the World of Work

What the World Cup Means for the World of Work

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has been consuming the attention of football/soccer fans around the world over the past two weeks and will continue to do so until the final match on July 15. The world’s most-watched sporting event, the World Cup has viewers tuning into matches from every country and at all hours of the day—including during work hours. Just as the Super Bowl and the National College Athletic Association’s Division I basketball tournaments have been demonstrated to cause a dip in productivity in the US, this quadrennial international event is bound to have an economic impact in many countries.

New research attempts to calculate just how big that impact is likely to be. Maude Lavanchy, a research associate at IMD Business School, and Willem Smit, an assistant professor of marketing at the Asia School of Business and an international faculty fellow at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, built a model to predict the productivity cost of the 2018 World Cup in a number of major countries based on how many matches were scheduled to take place during work hours in that time zone and how the expected outcome of each match (based on betting odds from UK bookmakers) would affect workers’ happiness—positively if their team wins, and negatively if they lose. The researchers outlined their findings in an article at Bloomberg earlier this month:

In all, we found that half of the 48 group-stage games could have economic consequences. Although such calculations are inherently speculative, they can nonetheless tell a useful economic story. And in this case, it doesn’t look good.

Take the France-Peru game. That match is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. (France time) on a Thursday, meaning that French workers will be on the job an hour before and after the game. Because France has a high probability of winning this game, we estimate that French workers will be 4.4 percent more productive that day, which implies a $354 million boost in GDP. That may sound like good news. Yet this boost doesn’t come close to compensating for the $2 billion lost during the two hours of the game itself — to say nothing of the blow to productive work if France lost in an upset.

The authors touch on what employers should do to address the likelihood that the World Cup is distracting some of their employees. In Brazil, they note, the government decided this year to let state workers adjust their hours when the national team competes. Should private employers follow that example? Another potential tactic is to leverage the event to boost employee engagement (as employers have tried with other sporting events), turn on the office TV and invite employees to watch the matches together: “True, not much work will get done,” they acknowledge, “But think of it as an opportunity to improve engagement, cultivate a stronger sense of community, and build up some good will for the longer term.”

On the other hand, according to the productivity platform Hive, the productivity costs of the games might not be as bad as Lavanchy and Smit claim, Chris Morris reports at Fortune:

The company has examined data from its users and says there are actually some notable productivity boosts tied to these games. During the first half, it’s about what you’d expect—no one is getting work done. Productivity falls 61%, says the company. But at halftime, workers scramble to catch up, resulting in a 301% increase during that period. The second half sees an even bigger productivity decrease, as things come down to the wire, but again … once the game is over, there’s a productivity bump of 79%. … The only exception? When Ronaldo is on the field. Productivity crashes then—and doesn’t bounce back.

Employers that decide to embrace the World Cup rather than trying to police their employees’ soccer fandom would do well to remember that not everyone in the office is a fan, while those that are may not be rooting for the same team, especially in a workforce with diverse nationalities. In the UK, for example, many have been cheering for England, but many employees may be supporting another country, Emma Bullen, HR team leader at MHR, points out to Jo Faragher at Personnel Today:

“The UK’s culturally diverse workforce means not everyone will be interested in the same matches, so organisations need to be mindful not to discriminate against employees based on nationality and ensure any special arrangements you are considering for the tournament are inclusive to all employees regardless of which national team they are supporting.”

This understanding should extend to to employees who are not football fans, too. One idea might be to introduce other perks for employees not interested in the World Cup, Bullen adds.