Very few people are more engaged than rabid sports fans. And big sporting events, like the Super Bowl, can bring out the sports fan in all of us. Some employers are turning the passion and energy of sports fans to their advantage and are using the Super Bowl to build a stronger sense of community and pride among their staffs.
“It’s been great fun the past few weeks in our office,” said Jason Nemoy, PHR, vice president, human resources for the Maryland Athletic Club & Wellness Center in Timonium, Md. “We’re meeting people in the halls and high-fiving each other. We really have concentrated on making this a fun place to work, and the excitement around the Super Bowl has just added to that fun atmosphere.”
Timonium is a suburb of Baltimore; the city’s NFL team the Ravens will face the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 championship game on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans.
The energy and enthusiasm surrounding an event like the Super Bowl is something that employers should tap into and use to help build stronger bonds between co-workers, according to John Challenger, president and CEO of Chicago-based outplacement consulting group Challenger Gray and Christmas.
“Improving employment engagement is a hot-button issue right now, and employers are always looking for ways to better engage their workforce,” Challenger said. “So an organization’s management could be passing up a great opportunity if they choose to ignore or worse yet keep employees from talking about the game.”
Often events like the Super Bowl have drawn complaints from employers because worker absences tend to increase, while productivity plummets. According to workforce analysts, many employers report spikes in the number of employees calling in sick on the Monday following the Super Bowl. Some sources have estimated that an additional 1.5 million workers could call in sick on Super Bowl Monday. In addition, worker productivity drops during the week before and the day following the big game.
Several groups support establishing a federal holiday on the Monday following the NFL championship. Petitions have been submitted to both the White House and the U.S. Congress in support of the American Sports Holiday. While it’s highly unlikely the federal government will act to establish another holiday, some supporters of the idea claim that an increasing number of employers recognize Super Bowl Monday as a holiday and give workers the day off, or at the very least provide a flexible time-off policy for the day. Sources interviewed for this article were not aware of any businesses that plan to offer Monday, Feb. 4, as a holiday.
Nemoy says his employer isn’t too concerned about employees missing work the day after the Super Bowl and is encouraging them to enjoy the game. To avoid potential scheduling problems, many employers in the Baltimore and San Francisco area are prepared to be more flexible on the Monday after the game.
Officials with the Bay Area Human Resource Executives Council (BAHREC), in the San Francisco area, did an informal poll of their members about attendance concerns following the Super Bowl. The survey found that most respondents didn’t expect attendance on the Monday after the game to be a problem. Several respondents commented that they planned to offer more work schedule flexibility and provide their workers more telecommuting options.
“I believe the most surprising thing we found with our survey is that most of the respondents said that the game is generating pride and a stronger sense of community among their employees,” said David Conmy, president of BAHREC and a principal with Zenzile Consulting in San Jose, Calif.
Conmy said that he knew colleagues and businesses that were actively focusing on this sense of community to engage and generate employee excitement not only about the game but about where they worked and lived.
“It can be a win/win situation, and I think there are a lot of employers in the Bay Area that are thinking of this year’s Super Bowl this way.”
A breakfast or social hour on Monday after the game is one way to channel that energy and enthusiasm. Several sources say it’s a great way to have employees meet and talk about the game. Sources say that many managers expect their staffs to spend at least an hour talking about and rehashing the game. An employer-sponsored gathering with light breakfast foods and coffee could provide a perfect setting to socialize and have a positive impact on morale and employee engagement.
“People get distracted, they like to talk about the game, so why not provide them an outlet?,” Challenger said. “In the days leading up to the game many probably spent some time reading about the game on the Internet, while others might be setting up office betting pools. So a breakfast hour gives them a chance to talk and have some fun.”
Wagering pools can give employers headaches. A 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that a third of companies have an office pools/gambling policy. In many states, pool organizers could be violating the law, which can create liability issues for employers—especially if the activity is known about and condoned. Even though gambling is illegal in most states, some states make exceptions for “social gambling.” The definition of social gambling varies, but social gambling usually takes place when pool participants know each other beforehand and no profit is made.
The SHRM 2010 survey also revealed that the Super Bowl was the No. 1 event for which employees organize office pools. Some employers have used the opportunity to create contests and give away prizes to employees. Attorneys familiar with the issue say that contests should be open to all employees and that employees should not be required to pay or risk any of their own money. Sources for this article recommend that employers take the time to review their policies and rules regarding office pools, because the No. 2 sporting event for office pools is right around the corner: the NCAA basketball tournament—also known as March Madness.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.