It’s barely a month into the current college and professional football seasons, and employers are concerned about the possibility of lost productivity.
Can you blame them? A study conducted last month by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated that employers lose $6.5 billion per year “due to their employees’ procrastination and managing their fantasy football rosters.” Yikes!
But those losses don’t need to happen. Instead, football season can be an opportunity to build a more personal, engaging workplace—really. Managing fantasy teams, discussing the weekend’s games, even debating the upcoming weekend’s contests are all opportunities for organizations to enable their employees to connect and form bonds, enrich relationships, foster trust and deepen engagement.
Considering inter-office football activities as “losses” is a missed opportunity. Today’s workers are spending more time in the office, and when they’re not at work, they’re taking their jobs home with them.
Smart employers give their staff leeway to pursue some personal interests at the office. And smarter employers are proactively using events such as football season to increase engagement and enhance communications among all of their employees.
Here are five tips on ways managers can create a more engaged work environment, while still remaining work-appropriate, during football season:
1. Show personality—especially management.
If your organization is hosting an off-site event or giving you the opportunity to talk about personal interests, don’t be afraid to be yourself and share anecdotes or stories. If you’re passionate about sports, share that with your work team. Bosses may feel like they have to remain professional—which is not a bad thing—but that shouldn’t mean bosses can’t participate in the fun.
By opening up and connecting with your team over a common interest like sports, you will build their trust and be able to better relate to employees and colleagues.
2. Organize internal fantasy leagues.
Fantasy football can be made into a fun, competitive team activity, which can boost teamwork and improve morale. Don’t try to control employees’ use of the Internet for fantasy football; instead, embrace the fact that employees will find a way to play fantasy football, so why not include the whole office and use it as a chance to de-stress and connect?
3. Host off-site events.
These outings allow employees to get to know each other outside of the workplace and connect over a shared interest. Be sure to choose a venue that caters to multiple interests, such as a restaurant where coworkers can chat, eat and hang out in addition to watching the game, so less-sporty employees don’t feel excluded. Fostering strong friendships among employees is a proven indicator of higher retention.
4. Talk about personal interests or activities.
Allow time in meetings for everyone to share something personal, such as what employees did over the weekend or an update on their favorite gridiron team’s progress. This is a way for colleagues to feel connected to each other’s lives without being invasive.
5. Encourage fun.
Don’t discourage employees from spending a few minutes watching a YouTube clip or discussing a recent game. Employees shouldn’t feel pressured to work every second of every day. Knowing they can let loose and discuss personal interests in the office every now and then can reduce burnout and create a less stressful workplace.
If companies really want to retain their best workers, they should train themselves to embrace some of the personal interests of their staff. Any effort to outlaw such interests, like the use of company computers for fantasy football, is shortsighted. People will always find moments to sneak in football conversations or manage their fantasy football teams on their smartphones, so organizations should instead embrace football season and reap the benefits of increased employee engagement.
Halley Bock is the CEO of Fierce Inc., a leadership development and training company that drives results for businesses by improving workplace communication.