Last reviewed 19 July 2021

The delayed 2020 Olympics will run from 23 July to 8 August 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. This feature covers issues which employers may see arise from such sporting events.

Events will mostly be held daily and with the Games being hosted in Japan, due to the time difference, most of the events will be taking place during UK working hours. As such, work may not be the top priority for employees who are following the games which, in turn, could mean that instances of poor productivity and bad behaviour may become more evident than usual.

Employers may see an increased number of absences, lateness or poor engagement, especially on days where an event takes place during a less convenient time period. While it is ideal to maintain a positive relationship with employees, employers must also be careful not to let standards slip too far.

Tokyo 2020

Will employees bail on work?

Staff may want time off to watch the events, but it is unlikely to be feasible to allow large groups of them to do this at once due to business needs. Holiday requests should only be accepted in line with your usual processes.

This can cause frustration for employees who fail to submit their requests on time. Processes for submitting annual leave requests should be clearly outlined in company policies.

Employers may find it useful to inform staff that attendance levels will be monitored throughout the period of the sporting event. Employees should be aware that any unauthorised absences will be classed as a form of misconduct, resulting in disciplinary procedures if this occurs.

As a further deterrent to employees thinking about taking time off without permission, employers could also encourage a work event out of the situation, for example, allowing employees to dress-down and bring in party food.

Will employees still be productive?

If an event is on during working hours, employers should consider how to respond to requests from employees to watch it. A common query will be whether it is possible to have a television on in the background or a radio playing for live updates.

Employees will most likely be able to receive updates through the use of personal devices or company internet, something that can easily distract them from their work. It may be worth employers reminding employees of any policies in place on personal browsing in working time.

Will employees engage in “banter”?

The games features teams from many countries, so employers should be careful to treat all employees in the same way regardless of their nationality. Showing preference to one employee’s request over another could potentially lead to claims of favouritism or even discrimination. Employers should also ensure that the workplace remains free from banter between fans that could qualify as harassment or discrimination.

Employers should be mindful that, if an event is shown in the workplace, any discriminatory or inappropriate comments made either by employees or members of the public should also not be tolerated.

While employers should ensure that employees are correctly working to the terms of their contract, employers may also consider taking steps that will allow workers to view the events and act as a deterrent to taking unauthorised absences.

Top ten tips for managing sporting events at work

See our article on the top tips for managing sporting events

Comment by Alan Price, CEO and HR expert at BrightHR

Employers will always have the same concerns whenever major sporting events roll around as unauthorised absences, reduced productivity and employee misconduct could stand to cause considerable issues in the workplace.

A sporting events policy can be used to manage employee behaviour during this time, either by reminding staff of their obligations at work or informing them of any workplace rules that will be relaxed for the duration of the Games.

With this in mind, employers should consider that preventing staff from keeping up to date with scores and results during working time has become increasingly difficult given the access to personal devices.  Therefore, it may be more beneficial to embrace the Games at work and use this as a way of developing a greater sense of morale and camaraderie.

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