tip off
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Sorry (yawn), boss, but there’s sport to watch

The World Cup, Wimbledon and soon the Commonwealth Games have Australian sport fans up at all hours. Are we losing anything apart from sleep? Freelance writer (and avid World Cup watcher) Hari Raj reports.

The day before his team took on Germany in their final group-stage game of the World Cup, United States soccer team manager Jurgen Klinsmann tweeted a cheerful request for bosses to let their employees have the day off. The note, officially sanctioned by the US Soccer Federation, swiftly went viral.

Support for the national side is one thing, but productivity losses during major sporting events are a major concern for employers. A much-quoted InsideView projection had the US economy losing US$121.7 million during the 2010 World Cup due to Americans’ viewing habits. This year’s tournament has drawn record numbers of viewers  — and record numbers of sick days.

Australian soccer fans are no less sleep-deprived. Games during the tournament’s group stages kicked off at 1am, 5am and 8am; the knockout rounds aired at a slightly more merciful 2am and 6am. While we are swiftly approaching the pointy end of the World Cup, we’ve also just finished Wimbledon. Even though Nick Kyrgios was knocked out after his early heroics, Aussies stayed up for matches that can and do continue into the wee hours of the morning. And then there’s the Tour de France! And the Commonwealth Games! How is one meant to hide bleary eyes at work during this perfect storm of sporting activity — or manage those who come in displaying them?

Ching Koo, the pharmacist in charge at Chemist Warehouse’s Box Hill branch, has certainly noticed the effects of the various sporting events on his staff. “We’ve had a couple who look like they’ve just come up from the sewers — you know they’ve watched all three games, and they haven’t slept,” he said. “You’ve just got to be wary of it. As long as they’re not totally unproductive, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Koo, a football fan himself, was watching games at the start of the World Cup but has had to cut back. He has noticed employees swapping shifts, and approves — indeed, flexible work hours are one of the suggestions that have mushroomed online.

He also says the World Cup has had a noticeable effect on office camaraderie. People come in to discuss the games and talk about highlights or wagers they or family members have placed on outcomes. “It certainly helps with rapport between staff — you get to know the employees a little bit more.”

Forbes would agree, having run a piece about how watching the World Cup can actually increase office productivity. Interdepartmental communication and collaboration go up, and office pools help with bonhomie — even if you’re unlucky enough to draw Honduras. It’s also worth pointing out that to some, the Bermuda Triangle of texting, YouTube and email still causes more work-hours to disappear than major sporting events.

If you’re one of those who saw Kyrgios beat Nadal, or Tim Cahill’s stunning volley against the Netherlands, this bevy of positive-sounding coverage would seem particularly enabling. But Dr Joy Lee, an advanced trainee in respiratory and sleep medicine at the Monash Medical Centre, says there’s nothing like getting the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep a night.

“Every sleep cycle is about 90 minutes, and you have four or five of those a night. Ideally, you’re looking at what we call consolidated sleep rather than fragmented sleep,” she said. “If your sleep is fragmented, if you’re waking up every couple of hours, it restricts your quality of sleep because you can’t get into that really deep sleep … You miss out on that really good quality consolidated sleep.”

According to Lee, the long-term effects of this (usually in people who have a pathological condition affecting their sleep) could affect everything from memory and cognitive functions to cardiovascular and mental health; depression and anxiety tend to be more common in people who have poor-quality sleep.

“It also affects appetite,” she says. “If you’re up at all hours, usually the food choices are unhealthy — we’re talking salt, sugar and fat content. You’re not going to be eating carrot sticks!”

For one last note on the subject, I approached my long-suffering editor, Metro Media Publishing’s group editorial director Eileen Berry, who graciously allowed me to commandeer the lone remote control governing the editorial television for the duration of the tournament. No stranger to tennis-induced late nights, she remains sanguine about the present sporting smorgasbord.

“The combination of soccer, tennis and the Commonwealth Games has thankfully arrived during the Melbourne winter and the subsequent downturn in activity at most work places,” Berry said. “This is also thanks to a botched May budget that has everyone waiting to see what the new Senate does in July.”

This correspondent would like to report that it has been a long month, and probably the best World Cup ever. But should you be an employer who walks in and sees your staff unable to tear themselves away from 4pm replays of the previous night’s games, do what Berry does and give them a cautionary smack with a foam sword. I’m sorry, boss. You can have the remote back now.

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  • 1
    David Hand
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Hep! Flexibility in work hours is the name of the game. Pity the ACTU doesn’t agree.

  • 2
    AR
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    The doubly dubious Anne Coulter opined, “I can assure you that nobody whose grandfather was born here is interested in the World Cup!” So that’s that, Angry Old White men and ..wotever Coulter is, agree.

  • 3
    fractious
    Posted Monday, 7 July 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Support for the national side is one thing, but productivity losses during major sporting events are a major concern for employers

    Oh boo-hoo.

    I still hold to the (quaint) belief that not everything in one’s life is about profit (either one’s own or someone else’s)

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