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Your Employees and the Olympics at Work
 

By Aliah D. Wright  2/3/2014
 

 

Let the games begin!

But don’t let your employees stop working because of them.

When NBC Universal airs more than 1,500 hours of Winter Olympic coverage across all of its television networks and NBCOlympics.com, it will be the most programming ever aired for a Winter Olympics and “more than the coverage of the previous two Winter Olympics combined,” according to The Washington Times.

Coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the XI Paralympic Games begins Feb. 6, and according to NBC, "every phase of competition from all 15 sports ... will be streamed LIVE on NBCOlympics.com and via the NBC Sports Live Extra mobile app." The games take place through Feb. 23, and March 7-16, respectively, in and near Sochi, Russia.

In its latest research from 2012, Captivate Office Pulse estimated that more than a quarter of Americans would watch the Summer Olympics while on the job, wasting $1 billion in productivity.

What’s an employer to do?

Lisa Patterson, the People, Talent & Culture manager at SmartBooks in Concord, Mass., wrote in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) LinkedIn group that HR could turn watching the Olympics into a “team-building exercise.”

Companies could highlight one of the events and allow people to watch it in a central location, “like a break room.” Another option would be to have sports fans work from home, where they could watch certain Olympic events “without eating up company resources.”

But what about productivity concerns?

“Ultimately, I subscribe to the belief that you hired your employees because you believed they could do the job. If an event that only happens every four years for two weeks is going to throw off the work product of your department or company so significantly that a policy is required to address it, then you have a much bigger problem—you have hired the wrong people,” she said. “We have a ‘results-oriented’ environment. If employees are able to watch the games and still deliver their work, then we don't have a problem with that,” she added.

“There will always be something that is vying for the employees’ attention,” whether they’re working remotely or not, observed Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, CEO of Xceptional HR and founder of Blogging4Jobs.

“It might be a sporting event, personal things or other activities. I don't think that shutting down televisions is the answer.

Employees will find a way [to watch], especially with mobile devices. I would recommend having employees voting on events that they want streamed from the office, to help create some boundaries and begin the conversation around what's appropriate and what is not for employees.”

At a previous organization, she recalled, “we set up our own office Olympics to accompany the event, focusing on teamwork and building relationships with employees. You can take these things virtual, too, and help include your workers who are teleworking.”

Security Concerns

“At the basis of all security is human behavior,” said Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4 LLC, a network-security firm.

“People behave based on a constant, real-time risk/reward equation,” Sjouwerman explained. “The only way to change behavior is with education, which brings their own awareness level up to a point where they voluntarily change their behavior based on a realization about life that is real to them.”

Along with instituting a policy on online streaming, HR can remind employees that the company network is for business use only and that no one has any expectation of privacy, Sjouwerman said.

“The IT team can add additional firewall rules to block streaming from TV sites, and you can implement Spector360” monitoring software “that shows management exactly what employees are doing all the time.”

While he thinks a TV in the break room isn’t a bad idea, “if the network can handle the load, you can leave it open to the employees’ discretion and treat them like adults.”

At the end of the day, however, employees will “do it if they want,” Damon Lovett pointed out in the SHRM LinkedIn group.

“And it will be pretty hard to block personal devices that are not relying on a company wireless signal.”

Lovett, a former member of SHRM’s Technology and HR Management Special Expertise Panel and now a senior HCM consultant and member of the International Association for Human Resource Information Management’s board of directors, said HR should “educate leaders on how to identify productivity issues and address them. Depending on the industry, there are ways to address disruptions.”

Perhaps training isn’t really needed.

“I’m not as worried about security,” said Miller-Merrell, a SHRM member. “I don't think HR needs to over communicate and make a big deal [out] of this with lots of new policies, sign-offs and a training video. It wastes more time preparing and executing something like this than the actual activity.”

Aliah D. Wright is a manager-online editor for SHRM Online. She won’t be watching the Olympics, but you can follow her @1SHRMScribe.

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