How to use major sporting events to engage and motivate staff

sporting events engage
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  • Employers should consider what sporting events would most engage their employees and plan initiatives around these.
  • Workplace activities can boost camaraderie and, ultimately, engagement.
  • Any initiatives should be as inclusive as possible for all employees, as well as voluntary.

In its June 2024 survey, research organisation OnePoll found that 43% of England fans admitted they would miss work for the UEFA European Football Championship (Euros). In order to combat an onslaught of absences, what can employers do to engage staff while major sporting events take place? And how can they capitalise on these to boost staff engagement and motivation?

Motivation and team building

Employers can use major sporting events, such as the Euros, Wimbledon and the Olympics, to bring employees together. Marking the events with activities in the workplace can create a shared sense of excitement and camaraderie.

Employers should embrace enthusiasm, rather than worrying about potential disruption, says Victoria Templeton, HR advisor at WorkNest. “If possible, allow employees to watch matches or events on a big screen during breaks, as this helps forge relationships beyond teams or divisions,” she says. “Permitting them to leave early to watch games can also boost motivation and engagement.”

By leveraging the team spirit fostered by these events, employers can strengthen bonds between employees while creating a light-hearted and competitive atmosphere.

Laura Miller, people country leader UK at SD Worx, says: “Sporting events provide key calendar moments where businesses can put employee engagement front of mind. Initiatives should focus on building culture, creating a sense of community and, ultimately, having some fun in the workplace.”

Offering engaging initiatives

There are a range of approaches that employers can take to use the events to create a positive atmosphere in the workplace and keep employees engaged. They should think about what is exciting for their workforces.

“For the Euros, staff and teams could put in their match predictions, with vouchers and prizes up for grabs,” says Miller. “Employers should want the initiatives to be a topic of conversation in the workplace kitchen, or when teams catch up in meetings.”

Employers can support engagement among employees in the workplace by organising a viewing afternoon in communal areas to watch a match together or event with refreshments. They could also encourage employees to cook food from the different countries competing or decorate the office with flags from around the world.

Alistair Dornan, director, organisational wellbeing at Gallagher, says: “Fantasy leagues or themed-dress days can allow employers to demonstrate their commitment to a positive work culture and bolster the team spirit. Creating incentives and rewards tied to the event, such as holding weekly quizzes with small prizes for winners, can also help to engage employees and boost morale.”

Matt Russell, chief executive officer of Zest, adds: “For organisations with large budgets, office perks such as complimentary tickets or access to hospitality at major events were previously reserved for wining and dining clients, but are increasingly being used as an employee benefit.”

Those who do not enjoy sport should not miss out, so employers need to ensure that all activities are as inclusive as possible and reflect the diverse nature of their workforce. For example, if an organisation decides to show football matches on a big screen, it should show them all, and if it allows an early finish, this needs to be offered to everyone. Anything offered should also be voluntary.

Prioritising inclusivity

Ensuring inclusivity in activities for hybrid, remote or deskless employees, or those with differing work hours, is also crucial to developing a strong team spirit across a business. Organisations should consider all workers and ensure there is something for everyone wherever possible.

This could include an organisation-wide sweepstake, virtual quizzes or live-streaming sessions for key matches to ensure everyone feels involved in communal viewing experiences. Those working from home can also be invited to remotely join screened matches in the workplace.

“Clear communication is essential to making sure that updates about these events are accessible to all and that everyone feels a sense of participation and inclusion,” says Dornan.

Effect on productivity

It is possible that excitement and passion around sporting events could distract employees from their responsibilities. Ensuring the working environment remains respectful is vital, while reminding staff of the importance of avoiding discriminatory behaviour is essential. Setting expectations ahead of time can help maintain a harmonious workplace and minimise disruptions.

“A brief reminder of a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, including examples of unacceptable conduct which may lead to disciplinary action may be appropriate, while a policy or announcement can prevent misunderstandings and ensure there is no inappropriate behaviour,” says Templeton. “Ahead of matches, communicate the importance of punctuality and the impact of lateness on business operations.”

Employers could offer flexible working to accommodate key sporting events but might also want to consider setting clear expectations regarding working hours and responsibilities to maintain productivity.

“Ultimately, it comes down to trusting staff to prioritise their work without missing out on the culture-building moments that can boost employee engagement and wellbeing,” says Miller.

While employers are not required to offer time off for employees to watch sport, they could put procedures in place.

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Debbie Coyne, employment law senior associate solicitor at Aaron and Partners, says: “Employers could grant everyone a half-day of unpaid leave, and be flexible with annual leave requests.”

Initiatives around sporting events can contribute towards happier, more productive and more engaged staff. This not only benefits them but also the employer, helping them to attract and retain talent.