The 2016 Rio Olympics pose both a unique challenge and opportunity to U.S. employers, with data suggesting that 37% of the working population will consider tuning in during working hours.
Unlike other recent Games, this year’s Olympics are taking place in a time zone only one hour ahead of the East Coast, meaning that many of the main events will overlap with the workday. Furthermore, advancements in mobile technology since the 2012 Games in London have enabled many to tune in on their personal mobile devices, whether or not they’ve been given permission to do so.
A recent online survey of over 2,000 American adults by the Workforce Institute at Kronos, a workforce management technology company, in conjunction with Harris Polls, found that 77% of respondents who intend to watch this year’s Games believe it’s appropriate to do so at work. Of those that intend to, 56% feel it's appropriate to spend 30 minutes of their working day following the action, and another 18% believe they can get away with as much as 45 minutes of viewing time.
Perhaps most concerning to employers, however, is that of those 55 million Americans who want to watch the Games during work hours, 17% would make up an excuse to leave work early, come in late, or call in sick to catch an event.
"The worst approach [employers] can take is to try to ban it," says Joyce Maroney, the director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos. "It's kind of like social media strategies that say you can't use social media at work," she says. "So many employees have a device in their pocket that keeps them connected at all times," Maroney explains, "so banning it is unrealistic and sends this paternalistic message, like the bosses are the grownups and the employees are the kids."
The study also found that 60% of employees do not believe their employer would support watching the Games at work, and 35% of those who do not intend to watch are doing so out of fear of getting in trouble with the boss.
Maroney believes employers who ban watching the Olympics at work outright are missing out on an opportunity to build camaraderie and team spirit in the workplace.
"If I'm trying to hide my cell phone in my lap in my cubicle to watch an event, that's not nearly as fun or as engaging as sitting at a table in the lunchroom with people and sharing that experience together," she says. "That bond with coworkers and respect for the manager, those are really important drivers of engagement and creating the kinds of cultures that people want to work for."
Deloitte, for one, is embracing the Olympic spirit throughout the organization. The professional services firm is an official sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and boasts two staff members competing at the Games. Foil fencer Gerek Meinhardt is a member of Deloitte & Touche LLP's advisory practice, and Japanese sabre fencer Kenta Tokunan works for Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting.
The company is also engaging staff in the spirit of the Games with a company-wide social media contest that sent 16 winners down to Rio, and has set up screens and viewing parties at each of its offices.
"It really becomes a shared experience for all of our people and reinforces those things we have in common with the USOC like leadership, strength through diversity, a commitment to team building," says Carolyn O’Boyle, the managing director of Deloitte Talent, Strategy and Innovation tells Fast Company from an airport in Houston before boarding a flight to Rio. "This becomes an opportunity to reinforce those."
O’Boyle adds that the organization is practicing what it preaches, as a recent Deloitte study argues the benefits of scheduled recovery time during the workday, which could include activities like watching the Games.
"We really pride ourselves on building a culture of trust and empowering our people, and part of that is empowering them to manage their time and responsibilities," she says.
With workplaces becoming more flexible and as more Americans are working from home than ever before, O’Boyle suggests that employees are now more accustomed to managing their time between work and personal activities.
"Every organization is different, but it's been really powerful for us," O’Boyle says. "If you look at the number of people who were engaged in some fashion, it was off the charts in terms of what we typically would see in an employee engagement exercise."