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Football tactics in the workplace

YOUR CAREER - World Cup: The World Cup is only three months off and it is time to start planning for the consequences of the event, even if you don't like football.

Where will you be at lunch time on Friday 7 June? If you are English, or simply a football fan, at least 50% of you are expected to be parked in front of a television set watching live coverage of the England v Argentina game in the World Cup.

Along with Ireland v Germany on Wednesday 5 June, also at lunchtime, the match is one of the most eagerly anticipated in the whole of the first round of the competition, which starts in just three months in Japan and Korea and lasts throughout June.

If you are a fan, then book your holiday quickly, although you might find all the slots have already gone. So, if you are stuck in the office or on site, you need to think about what you are going to do now. And if you are a manager in any shape or form, whether a football fan or not, you need to plan for the likelihood of half of your staff disappearing for a minimum of two hours at strategic points throughout June.

The problem doesn't stop with the two games mentioned. Crucial group deciders are at 7.30am, with the pubs opening early to match and, as World Cup fever takes a grip, whether England and Ireland make it through the early rounds will become irrelevant. The semi finals, also at mid-week lunchtimes, mean forward planning is vital if you want to get and keep a healthy proportion of staff at work. This may require some rescheduling of key construction operations.

The middle of a skills shortage is not the moment to come the heavy handed employer, even if you can't quite understand why football is so important. Suggestions that staff might like to tape games to watch later will lose you respect. Instead, use the opportunity to build team spirit and company loyalty, says Rob Barlow of specialist human resources consultant Penna.

'The World Cup is unlike any other sports tournament phenomenon, reaching across all boundaries and even interesting those usually indifferent to football, ' he says. 'To ensure that business doesn't grind to a halt, companies should accept the inevitable and plan accordingly.

'Companies would be unwise to simply think that people will work through the World Cup. We advise companies to use the event as a positive way of building team morale.'

Hiring plasma screens, awarding long lunch hours and flexible working hours are ways of addressing the issue. 'Given that a number of the matches are on early in the morning, why not arrange for events to happen at work so people are ready to work when the game is over?

'Companies need to agree among senior staff that the World Cup is an important national event, ' he says. 'Check in everyone's diaries to ensure there are no board meetings, project team meetings, important decisions or operations scheduled during the matches - you won't get a firm decision (or good work) with people's attention elsewhere or half of them 'off sick'.'

Construction union, the GMB, has called for employers to be given half day holidays when Ireland or England are playing. 'It would be a positive gesture from businesses to their employees and bring huge benefits in terms of increased productivity, ' the union claims. So far, there have been no takers for that one, but construction is starting to get its collective head around the issue.

Contractors such as HBG Construction are devolving responsibility to their site managers to decide if watching the games can be fitted in around project operations, but with the work programme always taking priority. Consultants including Atkins are looking at operations, such as crucial concrete pours scheduled for airport work in June, with a view to timing them to miss key English and Irish games.

'As an industry we are probably not thinking about the World Cup effect yet, ' says Balfour Beatty Major Projects operations director Stephen Tarr. 'But as a football supporter, it's a nice problem to have.

'We're unlikely to be issuing any hard and fast rules, but it will be prudent to recognise the potential for disruption and plan accordingly. It's a risk management issue.'

On the individual front, managers are hiring television screens for the office in a bid to stop staff heading for the pub and not returning all day. And engineers say they are buying hand held TVs so they can park in a lay-by if they have to, and will not be answering the phone, email or mobile at crucial moments.

Key points

26M people watched the England v Argentina game in the 1998 World Cup

Des Lynam greeted viewers of the England v Tunisia match with the words 'Good afternoon. Shouldn't you all be at work?'

Premiership sponsor Barclaycard is predicting that 40% of people will take sick days to watch David Beckham and Roy Keane do their stuff.

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