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Middle East – World Cup hangover to take toll on workplace productivity

11 June 2014

The 2014 football World Cup is likely to hit productivity of employees across the Middle East, according to a survey by GulfTalent. Although none of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have qualified for the tournament, 89% of employees in the region plan to watch at least some of the games.

The tournament, due to be played in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July, will be aired live in the Middle East each day between 8pm to 4am in the UAE and Oman, and between 7pm to 3am in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. 

Employees across the Middle East were asked how they plan to balance the watching of late night games with their work commitments the next day. About one in ten said that they would go to work late in order to catch up on sleep, while a similar number will take a day of annual leave after watching late night matches. A small number (3%) would report sick so they do not have to go to work. About one-third of respondents said that they will cut on their sleep to make it to work on time. 

When comparing among different job categories, IT professionals were found more likely than others to come to work late or call in sick following a late night match. HR professionals in comparison were the most likely to take a day of annual leave, while marketing professionals were more likely to simply cut on their sleep and come to work tired. 

Some survey participants noted that the second half of the tournament will coincide with Ramadan, when many employees in the Middle East work reduced hours, allowing them to sleep after work and be up in time for the games. 

Asked if they would spend any time on the games at work, about one third of respondents indicated that they would be spending some of their work time discussing the games with their colleagues, or watching the highlights on the Internet. 

Some employers expressed concern about the potential drop in productivity resulting from the games. One manager from an oil and gas company commented: “I have 50 employees in my team. Most of them are football fans and this will really affect our productivity this month.” 

The survey unsurprisingly found that managers who were themselves inclined to watch the games were more likely to give flexibility to their team to watch them. Some managers said that they plan to use the World Cup as an opportunity for team building and would organise interesting competitions related to World Cup in their office. 

The threat to productivity is not confined to the Middle East. According to a survey involving 100 UK business leaders by telecoms and IT services provider Coms plc, the World Cup could result in a loss to British business of 250 million working hours. This would comprise of a rise in absence levels, late arrivals, poor performance due to lack of sleep or discussions at the workplace. A separate survey by employment law specialists ELAS puts the cost of the World Cup to Britain’s employers at £4 billion in lost productivity. 

According to GulfTalent, the level of productivity loss for Middle East companies may not be as severe as their European counterparts, as all the games fall outside working hours for people working a day shift. In addition, there is negligible consumption of alcoholic beverages, a main driver of World Cup related sicknesses. However, companies with poor or inadequate guidelines are still likely to suffer a disproportionate amount of absenteeism. Only a quarter of survey respondents said their companies had a specific employee policy in respect of the World Cup. 

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