World Cup to cost business billions

Workers wanting the latest on Rooney’s foot, Owen’s fitness, Crouch’s robot dance and all the other important World Cup news could cost UK businesses almost £4 billion through non-productive internet use, according to employment law experts.

With broadband now widely used by small businesses and a host of football-dedicated sites available, law firm Brabners Chaffe Street has calculated the figure, based on a £12.50 hourly wage and half of all employees spending an hour a day indulging in football-related web surfing.

With more matches kicking off in the evening, ‘absenteeism is unlikely to be as big a problem this year as it was in 2002,’ says Joe Shelston, of Brabners Chaffe Street. ‘But the danger for employers is that they assume that so long as their workers are at their desk, there is no problem.’

Beyond unproductive workers there is also an IT issue to consider, with staff downloading interactive wallcharts, news alert software or watching broadband feeds of matches.

‘Employers need to set out before the competition kicks off exactly what is acceptable behaviour, and what isn’t,’ Shelston adds.

However, it is not all bad news and hassle for employers for the next month or so. If England were to surprise everyone and get all the way to the final and even win the whole tournament, the feelgood factor could boost business morale.

‘Some research suggests that productivity actually increases when employers are feeling good about their national team,’ believes Shelston. ‘Allowing some internet use, while clamping down on inappropriate or excessive use, might strike the balance needed to ensure high morale without damaging your business.’

Brabners Chaffe Street has produced this list of the top five concerns of small businesses and ways of dealing with them:

  1. Productivity – Whether this is due to staff surfing the net, drinking at lunchtime or recovering from hangovers, employers need to keep a close eye on productivity to ensure that work – and not football – is at the forefront of their staff’s minds.
  2. Absenteeism – Whenever there is any large event, some workers will mysteriously fall ill on match days – or the mornings after. Employers need to be able to distinguish which absences are genuine, and which are not. Absenteeism will be less problematic than four years ago (when matches took place in office hours) but still needs monitoring.
  3. Sexual discrimination – Care needs to be taken not to assume that only male employees will want to agree flexible arrangements to watch matches.
  4. Patriotism and racial discrimination – Similarly, being flexible with England fans means you are obliged to treat fans of other nations – and non-fans – equally.
  5. Out of work behaviour – Employers are entitled to expect their staff to behave in a fitting manner even outside work. The last thing a company wants is to find their employees’ actions around an England match have brought shame upon the business.

As if this wasn’t enough, the TV Licensing Authority is cracking down on businesses that show matches on TV without a valid licence. A penalty of up to £1,000 and a trip to court could await those caught with no licence. During Euro 2004, over 24,000 people were caught. Those business owners not wanting to take the risk should visit or call 0870-243 0654. A licence will set you back £131.50.

’We have a database of more than 28 million addresses, so our Enquiry Officers know exactly which unlicensed business premises to target,’ says TV Licensing spokesperson Jessica Ray. ‘Whatever the kick-off time, our Enquiry Officers will be knocking on doors, so businesses should ensure they have a valid licence or they risk scoring an own goal in the form of a trip to court, a fine of up to £1,000 plus court costs, and they will still need to buy a TV licence if they need one.’

You have been warned.

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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