As if the European Championships tournament wasn’t enough suffering for non football fans this summer, the Premier League season is on the horizon, making fantasy football chat near inescapable for those who aren’t interested in the Beautiful Game.
However, fantasy leagues in the office perhaps shouldn’t be written off as a distracting indulgence, recent research released by Peninsula, the HR and employment law specialist, suggests.
The organisation discovered that 62 per cent of employees find their involvement in an office fantasy football league boosts their morale, with 49 per cent of respondents saying it also helps build relationships with fellow employees.
Of course, employees would say this. I suspect the majority of folks in the sales team sat opposite me find their only chance to discuss the intricacies of Rooney’s booking rate or the exact valuation of Romelu Lukaku is with each other at work.
But the banter that comes with fantasy football talk and the excitement of comparing strategies is, I suspect, analogous to the functionality of such a team.
It may not be a coincidence that our leading salesperson is also the best-performing at fantasy football, being as the skill sets for each can be said to be similar; a sound judgment of pricing and budgets and, umm, an ability to think both outside and inside of the box.
Employers get in on the act
But it isn’t just the employees who are claiming fantasy football is a tonic for team relations. Managing director of marketing company Integrity Search Kristin Atkinson feels the competition is a ‘fantastic way to raise morale in the office as it creates something that the whole office can be involved in and interact about’, providing a ‘great ice breaker for new staff members and some funny moments in the office which puts everyone in a better mood, making them more productive’.
Some bosses go further. Matt Humphries, director of Babel PR, swears by ‘The United Babel Emirates’, which provides fierce rivalry for a solid nine months of the year. ‘It encourages both competitiveness and collaboration as non-football fans are given covert tips on which players to select to beat the main protagonists at the top of the league,’ Humphries says, suggesting that even those killjoys who think Cheikhou Kouyaté is the main adversary of Roadrunner have a place in the exuberance.
To avoid drop-off and to get as many people involved as possible, diary markers are sent around for Friday lunchtime to remind of transfer deadlines and Babel will, this year, be offering weekly prizes in the form of immunity from tea/coffee rounds.
‘Inter-office rivalry of this type can only be a good thing,’ says Humphries. ‘In a diverse work environment such as PR, discussions about which player is likely to be playing up front for Swansea this weekend or the extent of an injury to a Columbian defender most people have never heard of, is something everyone in the company can partake in and enjoy without controversy.’
Striking the right balance
All sounds very fun, but you do feel for the ones who can’t get interested no matter how many times Damien Delaney scores unexpectedly for Crystal Palace. For this band, the fun lies with HR director at Peninsula Alan Price bringing employers back to earth. ‘Employers must consider when starting the league that rules must be set so employees understand the minimum requirements and prevent excuses that they weren’t aware they were breaking the rules,’ he says. ‘Fantasy football at work is of course fun, however playing fantasy football at work all the time is not OK. Set the guidelines that though the league is run through the company, that doesn’t mean it is work.’
However, Price does go back to fun mode. He adds, ‘To make the league open to every employee, it may be worth considering a no-fee league as an entry fee could prohibit everyone participating and submitting a team. Employers could make it free for employees to participate in the fantasy league, and provide a prize as a company as an extra motivation.’ That sounds more like it.
Make sure you don’t get boorish and engage in casual sexism either, Price says. ‘When conducting a fantasy football league it is important to ensure equality is upheld in the workplace with regards to all employees being allowed to enter for example making sure both male and female are equally involved. You cannot assume that women like football less than their male counterparts.’
Finally, make sure that employees do not feel excluded by their co-workers if they decline to participate, and use this opportunity to show respect to employees participating or not and encourage employees to talk about their other interests as well.