Employment matters: Watching sport at work

CUP TIME: Do we actually get any work done when there are big sporting events on, employment lawyer Bridget Smith asks?
CUP TIME: Do we actually get any work done when there are big sporting events on, employment lawyer Bridget Smith asks?

Does your workplace have a water cooler?

It is still referred to as gathering around the water cooler, but these days, most workplaces don't actually have water coolers.

However, that doesn't stop employees gathering together to catch up, exchange stories, and discuss on a Monday morning, the events of the weekend.

But how often does excitement around outside events, make its way into the workplace, and is that a good or a bad thing?

There is apparently international research that suggests that violence against women increases by up to 50 per cent during large sporting events.

Shocking as that is, I assume violence is worst when, for example in New Zealand's case, the All Blacks lose.

Bringing this back to employment law, and not to diminish domestic violence in any way, I wonder if there is research regarding the impact of large sporting, or indeed large scale social events like concerts, on productivity in the workplace?

Concert tickets going on sale can occupy employees for a fixed period of time, while people frantically log on trying to obtain tickets before a sought after event sells out.

Things like this are manageable to the extent that the window for buying tickets is usually a short one.

Compare that with last year's America's Cup. How many productive hours were lost as employees huddled around television screens if the workplace was lucky enough to have one, or computer screens if not?

How many employees were late to work because they were watching the racing and came in afterwards, and how many workplaces allowed employees to watch on what would otherwise have been productive work time?

Was productivity affected by this? Or did employees, recognising the generosity of their employers, make up the time at other times or in other ways? Was there more of an impact on productivity when we weren't successful in bringing home the America's Cup?

With a significant portion of the population working Monday - Friday, All Blacks matches on a Saturday night shouldn't affect productivity. You can watch the match in your own time and any frustration you may have at the result or the performance can be worked through on Sunday, leaving you free to focus on work on Monday.

I did laugh though, out for brunch with family on Sunday when I saw the cafe we were at had a sign on the door: Our barista is English. He has recorded the match and is watching it after work. Please don't tell him the score!

So, do major events, both sporting and social, have an impact on your workplace? Is it the sort of place where you band together and dress up to support the event of the day - currently the Football World Cup, or do you see it as a frustrating distraction which impacts on employee productivity? I would be interested to see any research on that.

Beyond that, when I watch the All Blacks or other major sporting team, I think how lucky I am that my performance isn't measured in 90 minutes once a week or less. How lucky I am that every mistake I make isn't broadcast worldwide and analysed and repeated in slow motion. While it doesn't make for exciting water cooler talk on its own, sometimes a desk job is just fine.

Bridget Smith is a partner at Swarbrick Beck Mackinnon and a member of the Auckland District Law Society.