This Sunday is the Super Bowl, the most-watched sporting event in the US. For football fans, that often means getting together with friends to watch the game and celebrate or commiserate afterward, depending on whether your team won or lost. For employers, on the other hand, it means a productivity slump the next day, as employees call in “sick” Monday morning or show up to work late, underslept, and/or hungover.
This year, some 17.2 million Americans might miss work the day after the big game, according to the “Super Bowl Fever Survey” commissioned by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated and conducted by The Harris Poll. The institute notes that this is the largest estimated number of absentees since the survey began in 2005, surpassing the 16.5 million estimated in 2016. The annual survey was conducted last month among 1,107 employed adults in the US aged 18 and older, and calculates its estimate based on the percentage of respondents who said they would likely stay home (11 percent) multiplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent count of the US workforce (156.9 million people).
From the same survey data, the institute estimates that 7.8 million Americans will be taking a pre-approved day off on Monday, while 4.7 million will take a last-minute sick day and another 22 million will either go into work late or work remotely from home. Senior-level employees and executives were more likely than junior and mid-level employees to say they would probably not work their normal hours on Monday.
Employees and employers alike know that Monday is the biggest “sick day” of the year, and 62 percent of senior-level/executive leaders surveyed by the institute said they found it funny when co-workers call out sick the day after the Super Bowl when they suspect they’re not actually sick. In a separate survey from the staffing firm OfficeTeam, however, 42 percent of senior managers said they considered these unplanned absences the most distracting or annoying employee behavior when it comes to major sporting events — more than any other habit. The OfficeTeam survey also found that 54 percent of professionals know someone who’s called in sick or made an excuse for skipping work following a major sporting event.
These Super Bowl-related absences, late arrivals, and distractions can have a significant impact on productivity. The global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which estimates the dollar amount of that productivity hit each year, projects that absences due to Super Bowl LIII could cost employers as much as $2.6 billion this year, not counting the additional productivity losses from tardiness and related distractions in the workplace: “If all of the workers who watch the Super Bowl spend just one hour of their work day discussing the game or come in one hour late, the productivity losses could hit $1.7 billion,” the firm’s Vice President Andrew Challenger noted.
These effects are likely to be felt most acutely in the home cities of the championship teams (Los Angeles and Boston), as well as in the greater Southern California and New England regions. Massachusetts employers “are bracing themselves for a higher number of sick calls on Monday,” Christopher Geehern, a spokesman for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe.
The Super Bowl Monday effect on workplace productivity is so pronounced and well-known that many working Americans believe it should just be acknowledged as a holiday: The Workforce Institute survey found that 32 percent of workers supported making the day after the Super Bowl a national holiday. What’s more, a survey OfficeTeam conducted in the lead-up to last year’s Super Bowl found that 72 percent of HR managers approved of that idea.
If you’re a US employer, what can you do to inoculate your organization against Super Bowl Fever? Perhaps not much, since cracking down on Super Bowl-related sick days carries its own risks of hurting morale and could even run you into legal trouble depending on how sick days are treated under the law in your state. Even employers who are on safe ground to police the abuse of sick days may find it counterproductive to enforce a hard line this coming Monday; when possible, experts often recommend an approach that acknowledges the reality and relies on carrots rather than sticks, such as pushing back the start of the workday or offering incentives to employees who show up to work on Monday, like breakfast or small gifts.
Another important step managers can take is to be transparent with their employees about their staffing needs, Joyce Maroney, executive director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos, comments to SHRM’s Kathy Gurchiek,:
“Many younger employees report feeling more anxious about missing this Monday than any other Monday of the year,” Maroney said. That suggests “they do not feel comfortable having an open and honest conversation with their manager” about taking time off. It also points to the importance of employers being transparent about staffing needs and scheduling options. …
The surge in absences “can create a flashpoint that exposes whether an organization’s policies and procedures around scheduling and time off are actually working,” Maroney said. “Organizations should regularly review, refine and communicate their time-off policies” and have procedures in place that allow employees to request and receive time off in real time and easily swap shifts with little or no manager intervention.