By Phil Pepper, partner and employment law specialist, Shakespeares

The introduction of flexible working patterns could be the answer to maintaining productivity levels and reducing absenteeism over the World Cup.

The first weekday England game kicked off at 8pm last night (Thursday 19 June) and some employers were concerned that productivity and staffing levels would plummet today as workers are more likely to be tired, hung over, or they may just call in sick.

According to employment lawyers at Shakespeares, there is action that employers can take to minimise any workplace disruption or dip in productivity during the World Cup. In particular, they could ‘trial’ the extended flexible working rights, which are due to take effect from 30 June 2014.

From the end of June, all employees will have the right to request flexible working rights — not just those that have children under the age of 17 or responsibilities as a carer. By extending these rights to the workforce early, as part of a ‘World Cup trial’, employers could do a lot to boost workplace morale and reduce absenteeism.

For employers thinking about ways to keep their workforce motivated and productive during the World Cup, it is important to ensure anything they do is inclusive and perceived as a benefit for all employees – not just those who are avid football fans or those that support England. It is also best practice to remind employees about any workplace policies that exist in relation to absenteeism or turning up for work whilst under the influence.

While precautions should be taken, there is scope for employers to be creative about incentives that might help to discourage absenteeism and keep football fans happy and motivated during working hours.

A dedicated viewing area could be created to allow employees to watch matches or check scores during their breaks, for example. This could help to discourage workers from streaming live games or checking scores on their smartphones or via their desk PC during the working day. Incentives in the form of rewards for a 100% attendance record during the months of June and July could also be considered.

Of course not all employees will be England fans and employers must ensure that all workers can request to work flexibly by coming in later the day after a match for example. This could mean that employers are faced with a situation whereby multiple employees request the same time off, which could present operational difficulties. To avoid this and to avoid any potential claims of discrimination, employers should make it clear that all flexible working requests will be considered on a first-come-first-served basis and the needs of the business will be considered before granting requests.

Employers should also be aware that trialling flexible working patterns during the World Cup could set a precedent for other sporting events, such as Wimbledon and the Rugby World Cup. To avoid this happening, the employer would need to communicate to staff that this is a one-off trial and any decision to repeat it would be discretionary.

Being flexible with employees during the World Cup could be a boon for some employers, particularly those where there is a high degree of interest in football. Balancing clear communication with some creative incentives and rewards for attendance could make them World Cup winners.

Top tips on how to be a winning boss over the World Cup:

1. Communicate policies clearly. Ensuring workplace policies are communicated clearly is essential to not only maintaining the operational standards of the business, but also to boosting morale and optimising productivity.
2. Consider introducing attendance-related incentives. To reinforce the penalties of absenteeism, employers should offer attendance incentives to all employees. For example, a voucher in exchange for 100 per cent attendance between June and the end of July.
3. Survey staff in advance. It is always a good idea to gauge employee interest before trialling a new flexible working arrangement. Gaining employee insight will enable the employer to make better business choices in the future too.
4. Stay open to suggestions. This is a time to experiment to find an arrangement that works well for both the business and its workforce. Consider setting up a temporary viewing room to discourage smartphone use at desks.
5. Trial flexible working arrangements. If the arrangements need amending, changes can be implemented or withdrawn if necessary.

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