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Embrace Sports in the Workplace and Watch Employee Productivity Soar

By Mark Robinson

In an article first published in Entrepreneur digital magazine, Mark Robinson discusses the generally positive effect of sports in the workplace.

Sports fans across the U.S. have been glued to their TVs every Thursday, Sunday, and Monday this fall as the NFL season surges towards the Super Bowl. Whether it’s strategizing fantasy rosters or calculating your favorite team’s playoff chances, football has become a staple of office conversation and culture this time of year.

I’ve seen it firsthand. Every Monday morning, our office in Boston has been filled with discussions around Tom Brady’s performance from the day before and predictions about how much more time he can play at such a high level. I have little doubt that similar debates could be heard in workplaces throughout the country. From Kansas City to New Orleans to Los Angeles, folks are preoccupied with their team – staying updated on the latest roster moves and organizing watch parties and tailgates.

Many find themselves trying to keep up with sports throughout their workday as much as they can, leading to many jumping on the bandwagon and following along as well. Some American workplaces have even begun live-broadcasting big day-time games or sporting events on the office TVs, letting employees stay updated on the excitement while pushing through on their work deliverables at the same time, but, is this sports obsession in the workplace impacting productivity of employees?

Participation can lead to increased employee engagement
According to a recent Kimble survey, which looked into sports fanaticism in the workplace, over a third of U.S. employees admit to participating in fantasy sports competitions during work hours. The Business Playbook Report also found that sports-related activities in the office can lead to improved morale for employees, as when the game is on, spirits tend to be higher – that is, when your team is in the lead, of course. 54 percent of survey respondents said participating in fantasy or March Madness competitions at work had a positive impact on company culture and engagement in the office. With this in mind, many corporate cultures lean towards including something fun during big sports seasons to keep employees engaged and excited.

In many workplaces, employees are divided into teams. With friendly competition around relevant sports news, building this camaraderie can be productive for these people who work together on a daily basis. It can lighten the mood, and encourage group-work and collaboration.

Can it be a distraction?
On the other hand, when it comes to productivity, we see a split in opinions. More than a third of employees surveyed feel like they become more productive while participating in fantasy sports, but about one fifth thought differently like it had a negative impact. This may be seen as a distraction for some, as the workplace is where they concentrate best and do not want to participate in competitions around sports.

Even though not all employees wish to partake, we do see that it helps build communication and camaraderie skills where possible. A little light-heartedness is always appreciated after a long day or a big project is completed, but it’s clearly important to work with your employees to ensure it doesn’t become too much of a burden or distraction.

Cultural differences
In American workplaces today, we see differences in culture when it comes to sports. In more serious offices, keeping up with a game during work hours seems to be frowned upon, whereas in more casual, open offices, everyone tends to participate in some way. In many cases, big games can be projected in conferences rooms or kitchens, and employees are open to working and watching at the same time. Conversely, our survey found that nearly half of employees said they’ve watched games during work hours while their manager thought they were doing other tasks.

In relation to productivity, this is often where we see a downfall. People have even been known to suddenly call out sick after a major sports event – 17 percent to be exact – and many more have considered doing the same. Some workplaces are more lenient than others, and the office culture can tell a lot about what is expected when it comes to office activities.

This sports fanaticism is seen differently all over the globe, and fantasy sports competitions are viewed differently when it comes to who’s focusing on the latest games, leagues, and updates in the sports world. It’s hard to remove yourself completely, especially when it seems like the whole office is participating. It’s important to stay open when it comes to cultural experiences like sports in the workplace, but at the same time, staying productive while participating is a must.

At the end of the day, don’t drop the ball
It’s important not to let these activities get in the way of business performance. As a major sports fan myself, I enjoy seeing my employees excited about the camaraderie it brings to the office. Being a team player and using the camaraderie we find with sports competitions in the workplace helps build out our team dynamics and helps keep our productivity and motivation top-level. Keep your eye on the ball, and plan ahead to make sure that your employees don’t let sports get in the way of their jobs.