Is Football Season a Waste of Time for Workers or a Wasted Opportunity for Management?

It’s barely a month into the new college and professional football seasons and employers are already concerned about the possibility of lost productivity. While some organizations consider football-related activities and conversations at work detrimental to productivity, others view football season as an opportunity to build a more personal, engaging workplace. Managing fantasy teams and discussing the weekend’s games are all opportunities for organizations to enable their employees to connect and form bonds, enrich relationships and foster trust and deeper engagement.

A study conducted this month by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated that employers lose $6.5 billion per year “due to their employees procrastination and managing their fantasy football rosters.”

But sometimes, viewing intra-office football activities as “losses” is a missed opportunity. Today’s workers are spending more time in the office, and when they’re not at work, they’re taking their jobs home with them. They’re even taking work on vacation, as we discovered in a recent survey on PTO. Smart employers are giving their staffs leeway to pursue some personal interests at the office. Smarter employers are proactively using events such as football season to increase engagement and enhance communications among all of their employees.

There is a fine line between discussing interests and hobbies at the office and maintaining a professional environment. Here are three tips on how managers can create a more engaged work environment, while still remaining work-appropriate during football season:

Host off-site events: These outings allow employees to get to know each other outside of the workplace and connect over a shared interest. Be sure to choose a venue that caters to multiple interests, such as a restaurant where coworkers can chat, eat, and/or watch the game, so employees don’t feel excluded. Fostering strong friendships is a proven indicator of higher retention.

Talk about personal interests/activities: Allow time in meetings for everyone to share something personal, such as what they did over the weekend or an update on their favorite gridiron team’s progress. This is a way for colleagues to feel connected to each other’s lives without being invasive.  

Encourage fun: Don’t discourage employees from spending a few minutes watching a YouTube clip or discussing a recent game. Employees shouldn’t feel pressured to work every second of every day. Knowing that they can let loose and discuss personal interests in the office every now and then can reduce burnout and create a less stressful workplace.

Companies need to train themselves to embrace some of the personal interests of their staff. Any effort to outlaw such interests, like the use of company computers for fantasy football, is shortsighted. People will find moments to sneak in football conversations and everyone has a smartphone, so they’ll be using mobile technologies to manage their fantasy teams anyway.

Infographic: Drug Abuse in the Workplace

Thanks in part to  a drastic increase in prescription narcotic abuse among the public, drug use on the job has also increased — and with alarming effects for employers. The following infographic, courtesy of Compliance and Safety, illustrates the magnitude of the problem.

The infographic goes even further by breaking down drug use by industry and company size.

Employers have options, however, including:

No More Kindles for Walmart

In the March issue of Risk Management, I wrote an article that discussed, among other things, how brick-and-mortar retailers were struggling with the phenomenon of “showrooming,” where shoppers browse store shelves to examine items that they ultimately buy online from competitors like Amazon for a lower price. One strategy that Target was using to keep customers in their stores was to offer more exclusive items, such as clothing lines from famous fashion designers like Kirna Zabete, Jason Wu or Missoni. Then in May, Target upped the ante by announcing that it would no longer sell Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and tablets. Although the retailer didn’t offer much in the way of explanation, it was obvious that Target now considered Amazon to be a real competitor capable of disrupting the market and was going to treat it as such.

Yesterday the world’s largest retailer followed suit as Walmart announced that it was dropping Kindles as well. Although the Kindle has been around since 2007, it seems that the debut of the Kindle Fire tablets were the last straw. Unlike their predecessors, which were purely e-readers, the Fires are portable web browsers and media players that enable customers to more easily purchase many more items online, especially from Amazon.

“The Kindle Fire is the Trojan horse,” said Andrew Rhomberg, the chief executive of Jellybooks, an e-book recommendation site. “It’s a shopping platform that covers so many more categories than e-books. It affects Walmart in a different way than the early Kindles and e-readers did.”

Basically by stocking Kindles, Walmart and Target were providing their customers with the keys to the online retail world, which could, in effect, wind up cannibalizing their own sales figures and brand strength. It’s probably wise not to be the instrument of your own destruction.

Of course, whether or not this move will have any effect remains to be seen. After all, Walmart still sells iPads.