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Should HR Let Employees Watch the Summer Olympics at Work?

It’s been an exciting first few days of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Whether you’re cheering Michael Phelps on to his 20th gold medal or admiring Usain Bolt’s speedy feet on the track, there is no shortage of examples that can motivate and inspire employees. However, when it comes to letting employees watch the Olympics at work, some executive leaders may see it as a distraction and productivity drain.

A recent study by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found that an estimated 55 million U.S. employees expect to watch some Olympic events live during working hours. The Olympics isn’t just a fever dream that will go away with a simple office ban though. The same study shows that employees are willing to do anything to watch:

    • 17% of those surveyed will make up an excuse to leave work early, come in late or call in sick
    • 33% will stream the event live while working
    • 28% will try to change their shift or work different hours
    • 18% would take paid time off to watch their favorite sport

At first glance, these statistics can generate all kinds of one-off HR requests from execs: Should we tighten up our leave request rules? Should we block streaming to prevent employees from watching on their work monitors?

Although tying people to their desks and blocking them from the games might look like the right thing to do, allowing your staff to watch the games during working hours may actually increase productivity. The study above shows that people will do just about anything to watch their favorite sporting events, so instead of circumventing their efforts, use this as a team-building and engagement opportunity.

Make the Case for Watching the Olympics at the Office

Often this type of suggestion is met with patient smiles and nods from executives, who write it off as “HR fluff.” Here’s the secret though: you can use some evidence-based HR tactics to prove that watching the Summer Olympics at work has a quantifiable benefit and can actually help with the bottom line.

Use these steps to uncover the data you need to create a gold medal work environment for the next two weeks:

Step 1: Do your research

Start by looking back at absence rates during other periods when major sporting events were taking place. Compare these to your normal patterns, being careful to take seasonal variation into account, and see how big the difference is.

Step 2: Cost out the difference between normal and heightened absence rates

By using HR analytics to look into hours-per-employee or days-per-employee, you can calculate the difference between the typical costs for absences and your increased costs for absences. If you have the data to track absence by individual, you can use their average daily pay to determine how much was spent or you can use the average for your overall organization to get an approximate number. (You may also want to consider overtime spend to see how much this increased during the period when you previously experienced a spike in absences).

Step 3: Make your case

With these numbers, you can quantify how much a spike in employee absences would cost the organization. You can make your case for why giving people 1-2 hours at work to watch a game is better than losing a whole day of productivity. What you may find is many people stay late to cover their tasks for the day or that work gets done quicker based on the buzz of a shared experience.

Also be prepared to track and report on your initiatives. It may be easier to sell this as an experiment than a proven outcome. For example, you can say: “Let’s try it – the evidence indicates it will help – we can track it and report on whether or not it does and we will know for next time.”

Torch Uncertainty With Data

Often HR tries to justify activities based on the intangible benefits, but it is hard to prove them to hard-nosed, numbers-only executives who are rewarded on tangibles. In order to win support for your programs, you must use credible data to make your case, and then report back on results in the language of the business.

This may sound as difficult as trying to pull off a back handspring on the balance beam, but with a solid people analytics solution, winning gold in data-driven HR becomes a piece of cake.

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About the author: Ian Cook

Ian is an advocate for the crucial role that people play in helping companies thrive. His career has focused on enabling people, teams and companies to perform at their best. For the last 15 years Ian has been helping leaders elevate their HR strategies and programs through the effective use of people analytics. At Visier, Ian led the development of our market leading solution and is now focused on the overall strategy for the people analytics business.

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