3 Ways to Keep Employees Engaged When Sports Distract

3 Ways to Keep Employees Engaged When Sports Distract

Think the Olympics were a big distraction at work? Turns out, a major sporting event can’t compete with the likes of coffee breaks, small talk, or trips to the loo. Each edges out even the internet as the top three distractions in the workplace.

There’s good reason to be concerned with the additional distractions. Roughly 55 percent of workers are already distracted during the workday, and just one in three says it’s possible to ignore workplace disturbances.

But in times of distraction, you’re presented with a unique opportunity: to create a shared experience for the individuals in your company.

The Strength of Shared Experience

Shared moments are the building blocks of office culture. And it doesn’t take an HR veteran to know that a winning culture can give companies a competitive edge when attracting and retaining talent, operating efficiently, and exceeding financial benchmarks.

Take the FIFA World Cup, for example. Our office decided to enjoy the game in the break room over some bagels and coffee. Employees watched the match, of course, but they also met and discussed plans for the day, never taking away from productivity.

Sporting events capture employees’ attention like little else can. Organizations that view them as opportunities to bring people together — rather than menacing, unwelcome distractions — will see improved employee cohesion and retention in the long run.

Competing With Distractions

This year, 73 percent of employees planned to watch at least some of the Rio Olympics, according to the Workforce Institute at Kronos. If you didn’t quench their thirst for the Games, then you probably fought to keep them on-task at every turn.

Here’s how to handle the next major sporting event that creates a workplace stir:

1- Incorporate the event into corporate culture. About half of employees surveyed by Kronos said they planned to watch the Olympics during work hours. Maybe you tried hiding remotes or installing viewing filters, but that’s an adversarial approach to an opportunity for bonding. Next time, why not schedule a watch party instead?

Just be sure to save the treat for particularly popular sporting events. They’ll impact productivity more than less sought-after matchups.

For instance, basketball, gymnastics, and swimming likely sapped productivity most during the Olympics. Respectively, 47 percent, 40 percent, and 37 percent of employees hoped to skip work to watch these events.

2- Rally behind employees’ favorite team. Few employers recognize sporting events’ potential to foster camaraderie. In fact, 60 percent of employees doubt that their employers would allow viewing during work hours. Another 63 percent say company culture lacks the flexibility to watch a major sporting event in the workplace.

But gathering everyone together to support a team is a great way to bond. It’s also not bad for employee satisfaction or morale. Designate an area, like the conference or break room to stream the match. Those interested can step in to watch a while.

During the Olympics, 56 percent of employees planned to spend up to 30 minutes of the workday watching or following the events. Keeping it all out in the open ensures that viewing is kept to a reasonable level.

3- Embrace the distraction. Debate all you want about the benefits of watching sports during the workday, but viewing will happen regardless of whether you agree to it. Although more than one-third of employees felt they’d get in trouble for watching the Olympics at work, 31 percent have reportedly watched another major sporting event while on the job.

Resistance is futile. When a big event is coming up, schedule a break during the game. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try a potluck lunch or put up some themed decorations. You might as well reap the rewards if your employees are going to watch anyway.

When employees get distracted, decisions slow. Work quality falls, and things begin to slip through the cracks. Everything from operational efficiency to employee engagement to accident rates are affected when workers are distracted from the task at hand.

So meet employees where they are and help them focus — even if briefly — on an experience they can enjoy together. It might not look like work, but the impact on your business is well worth it.

And you aren’t exempt! Share in the experience with staff. Structure events around employees’ favorite sporting matchups. By making the most of the distraction, you’ll keep work quality high and win some team-building benefits, too.

This article originally appeared on hr.com.