For Americans, I want you to envision an event that is larger than three Super Bowls. Then you’ll begin to grasp how big the World Cup is.

In past years, employers in the United States have escaped much of what the rest of the world has had to deal with — a month long event that leads to great passion and excitement (and great distractions as well).  Back in 2006, there were European insurance companies offering disability plans to employers based on World Cup absences! 

But this year, there is little doubt that it is taking on a greater significance here in the United States (and in Connecticut where East Hartford recently hosted a friendly soccer match between the U.S. and the Czech Republic).  People are just more excited than they have been before.  (The New York Times said that many are viewing the U.S. as a "Soccer Country".)

Employers here have had to deal with these types of distractions before — namely the annual March Madness associated with college basketball and the Super Bowl.  The same approach to those events can and should be followed with the World Cup.

What’s a bit different though about the World Cup this year is that the most of the soccer games (being held in South Africa) are being aired between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. — prime working hours. So, more than the other sports events that occur, this one has the potential to be more disruptive than most.   Don’t get caught off guard by the amount of interest your employees show in this even during the workday.

Here are some issues for you to consider to deal with the games over the next month or so:

  • Again, understand that the games will be played typically at 7:30a, 10a, and 2:30p EDT each day starting Friday.  In particular, the United States plays on June 18th at 10 a.m. (vs. Slovenia) and June 23rd at 10 a.m. (vs. Algeria).  But there are many other popular teams that your employees may follow (Brazil, Spain, Italy, Germany, Mexico to name a few.)  Even if you do not follow the tournament, you should be aware of what’s going on
  • What is your policy on using computers for "personal use"? Is your computer system prepared to deal with a slowdown? (If you don’t think it will happen, check out my post from 2 years ago on the "Tiger Effect" when he played a U.S. Open playoff on a Monday.)  If you are monitoring usage by employees, are you complying with the Connecticut Electronic Monitoring Act by notifying employees of such monitoring? 
  • What is your PTO or vacation policy? Are you prepared to deal with multiple requests for the same day? How flexible will you be? 
  • If you have a sizable population that you know is interested in the games, perhaps use that to your advantage by setting up televisions in the break rooms for people to watch during the lunch hour. Or encourage employees to wear their favorite team jerseys on a designated day. 
  • Of course, satisfactory performance and business behavior can continue to be expected. If your employees are displaying a little too much emotion about their team, it’s certainly proper to advise those employees to keep their emotions in check. (Of course, Connecticut is no stranger to rivalries with the Yankees and Red Sox mixing it up each year.) 

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’m rooting for the United States, but tend to think that Spain will be the big winner.  (Of course, i reserve the right to change that prediction at any time.)

(The photos are ones that I took at  the recent World Cup warmup game between the U.S. v. Czech Republic. Copyright 2010.)