Use Winter Olympics to Light Up Employee Engagement

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek February 9, 2018
Use Winter Olympics to Light Up Employee Engagement

An Olympic "torch relay," bob-chair "sledding" and synchronized office-chair swiveling?

There is no snow or ice in sight in Calabasas, Calif., but the 2018 Winter Olympic Games will come alive for MyCorporation employees there as the 18-day international event takes place nearly 6,000 miles away in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Opening Ceremony is Feb. 9.

"We are definitely embracing the Winter Olympics in our office this year and having fun with the events," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of The company is a provider of online document filing services for people who want to form a corporation.

Its 50 employees will run a relay around the company's open-office layout, passing a torch—a decorated empty water bottle—before delivering it to Sweeney. Later, teams of employees will maneuver decorated office chairs for the bob-chair event. In a nod to figure skating, employees also will perform in an office-chair spinning competition.

This is the first year the company has had its own Olympics.

"We work hard and play hard, and this is a great way to celebrate the Games," Sweeney said.

Events such as the Olympics can be a morale booster, said Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, a global staffing service headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif.

"[They] bring out team spirit in the workplace. They provide an opportunity for employees to bond as they talk about the upcoming schedule and results," she noted. And Olympic-themed office contests, where employees win bragging rights or even their own gold medal, "can boost productivity for sales- or results-focused teams." 

Seymour Adler, an organizational psychologist with London-based Aon, encourages employers to embrace the Olympics with its motto of "higher, faster, stronger."

He thinks watching any of the 102 events—some of which began the day before the Opening Ceremony—can help unite work teams.

"If they take a few hours off during the day to watch the events, let them, but [tell them you] expect that the work will get done," he said. "Empowering people to watch the events will create a greater bond to the company. It is also a time for team building."

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TVs in the common areas at Forekast will be tuned in to the Winter Games until they conclude Feb. 25, said Justin Kerby, chief marketing officer of the Honolulu-based tech company. Forekast is a crowd-sourced online calendar. Users add events to it and members cast votes for those events; the more votes an event gets, the more likely it will be displayed to website visitors.

It is among the 25 percent of U.S. companies that will be allowing employees to watch the Olympics, according to a survey that digital media company Captivate conducted Jan. 25-29 with 568 white-collar U.S. workers. Captivate is based in New York City.

"We encourage all of our team members to be on top of the events schedule and to feel free to livestream as many of the events as they wish," Kerby said. Watching the Games, he said, "helps us provide more context to our users, who come to to see what events are trending around the globe," he explained.

The company is holding an inner-office competition among its six employees to see who can generate the most votes by Forekast community members for any of the Olympic events.

"We're using the spirit of the Olympics to challenge each other and see who can take gold!" 

Kerby and his employees plan to watch the ice hockey finals together.

"We have team members from several countries, so we may be cheering on different squads depending on who's in the final," he said.

For some, keeping abreast of Olympic developments will be a more singular experience, the survey found. About 26 percent of the business professionals plan to monitor the Olympics with their personal cellphone, and 23 percent will use their company laptop or desktop to view events.

Just how much time do workers expect to spend following the Games while on the clock? About 40 percent said it will amount to less than 15 minutes. Others, though, won't show the same restraint: 24 percent will spend between 15 minutes to an hour, and 12 percent will log an hour or more viewing the events.

For organizations that promote watching the competitions as a group, Adler suggested following the excitement over a gold-medal victory with a brainstorming session or other activity that promotes employee interaction.

The Olympics also can be part of a diversity and inclusion strategy and can help promote a more global mindset, he said. The Games offer a way for non-native employees to talk about their countries or share traditional foods.

"The Olympics are a major world event that bring together people from different backgrounds," he said. "Embrace and respect that."   

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