Page last updated at 05:21 GMT, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 06:21 UK

England's workplaces gear up for World Cup 'sickness'

By Kerry McDermott
BBC News

An England fan enjoys a drink
Hungover staff could cause headaches for employers

It is the "illness" that strikes every four years in England, spreading like wildfire around workplaces and leaving rows of empty desks in its wake. World Cup fever.

As Wayne Rooney and his team-mates prepare to head to South Africa in June, many employers will be anticipating suspicious levels of staff sickness during the month-long football tournament.

A survey of more than 400 England fans commissioned by betting website Betfair revealed 32% would consider skipping work to watch a crucial game this summer.

The figure rose to 68% among respondents who regularly attended football matches.

With the opening ceremony fast approaching, can companies avoid reduced manpower on match days?

Or should bosses with an office full of ardent England fans simply resign themselves to the inevitable?

According to Jacqui Mann, managing director of Wiltshire-based human resources firm J Mann Associates, employers should take a proactive approach to preparing for football mania this summer.

'Hangover effect'

"Companies do need to start thinking about it because otherwise they will tend to get a lot of people going absent," she said.

"Most of the England matches aren't going to be taking place within normal working hours - but of course not everybody works 9am to 5pm."

Ms Mann pointed out that should England do well in the competition, excitement among supporters will build and each game will be more "unmissable" than the last.

"Then of course you've got the knock-on effect of the hangover the day after the game," she added.

A deserted office
Staff absence could rise during the World Cup, according to a survey

She said it was important to consider all staff when preparing for the World Cup, as many workers could be supporting teams other than England.

"Bosses should be talking to their staff to find out which people are interested in which matches, and when they are taking place," Ms Mann said.

At the Birmingham head office of the Phoenix Group, a business which deals with closed life and pension funds, a marquee is being put up to allow staff to watch the England versus Slovenia game, which kicks off at 1500 BST on 23 June, and, as the final group match, could be crucial for the team's chances of progressing.

'Crucial games'

More than 250 employees are expected to pile into the marquee, where food, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks will be available.

Mike Merrick, chief executive of Phoenix, said: "At Phoenix, sports and social activities play an important role in the company's ethos.

"Our staff are big football fans so we didn't want them to miss a crucial England world cup game.

"We're laying on a seated marquee with multi-screens, drinks and nibbles to ensure they can watch it in style."

Supermarket chain Asda is giving employees who want to head to South Africa for the tournament the option to take unpaid leave, or a "safari sabbatical".

While workers staying at home can arrange shift swaps to ensure they don't miss taking in the action on screen.

But a poll of more than 1,000 employers carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed nine out of 10 had no plans in place to help manage staff absence during the 2010 World Cup.

CIPD adviser John McGurk said it was "alarming" that only 10% of employers were putting guidance in place.

The organisation has now issued advice for employers on how to maintain a harmonious workplace during the heady days of the tournament.

"Whatever individual organisations decide is right for their employees, guidance should be clear and communicated well," said Mr McGurk.

Suggestions include offering shift swaps or flexible working hours to allow staff to catch crucial games, or screening matches on work premises.

The CIPD also recommends encouraging workers to use up annual leave to discourage absenteeism and poor performance through "over-indulging in alcohol".

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