Lynne Curry: Super Bowl hangover, Alaska style

THE WORKPLACEFebruary 7, 2014 

Q. Monday, Feb. 3, was a disaster in our company. Three of our warehouse staff and half of our drivers called in sick. We're convinced at least some of them were faking it and aren't sure how to handle it. We have a young, mostly male crew and some of them call in sick after a holiday but it's never been so bad.

A. Your company experienced Super Bowl Hangover. No surprise, given that more than 111 million Americans tuned in to the Super Bowl, leading to not-so-Super Monday for many employers. According to the Kronos work force management firm, nearly 1.4 million adults admitted planning to call in sick the day after the Super Bowl. In past years, another 4.4 million employees arrived late for work.

You need to address two issues. First, some of your employees could have made it to work, at least by the afternoon, and instead took the full day off, leaving your company short-handed. Second, given how many sports enthusiasts you employ, you may need a plan for the upcoming March Madness NCAA basketball tournament.

Because you can't afford sick leave fraud, interview each returning employee. Ask how they're feeling and what led to their Monday morning decision. If they were sick, let them know you hope they're better.

If they partied too hard Sunday, planning to call in sick Monday morning, they made a conscious decision that it was OK to leave you short-handed. If they woke up unexpectedly hung over, ask why they didn't simply show up late. Tell them if there's a time in the future when they need to come in late or miss work on Monday because of a Super Bowl party, they need to ask for time off in advance; it's easier to deal with scheduled absences than unscheduled ones.

Next, decide how to effectively handle next year's Super Bowl. Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas puts employers' Super Bowl productivity loss at $820 million, noting this doesn't include time wasted by employees yakking about the game, interacting with betting pools, listening to ESPN, planning Super Bowl parties and trolling on discussion boards.

If the average employee spends the Monday after the Super Bowl talking about the game, U.S. employers lose at least another $150 million in "unproductive wages." Most employers cut employees some slack here, knowing that sports banter can boost morale and improve co-worker camaraderie, increasing long-term productivity.

Next, 58 percent of human relations professionals surveyed report their employees take part in workplace Super Bowl betting pools. Although social gambling is legal in Alaska if it takes place inside one's home, no one can profit from the game taking place, only from playing the game.

If someone organizes the game using company equipment and rakes in a percentage, your employer takes on potential liability for condoning criminal activity. In 2002, an AT&T manager was arrested for allegedly taking a 10 percent cut, $3,000, from a New Jersey football betting pool advertised in office emails. A co-worker allegedly turned in the employee to the police, who arrested him for promoting gambling. The manager faced five years in prison.

In several other cases, employees sued their employers, holding them liable for financial losses. Several employees even claimed employer-approved office betting pools triggered them to relapse into gambling addictions. Given these dangers, you may want a policy to ensure that workplace gambling doesn't spin out of control.

Finally, you can use this year's disaster both to organize a game plan for next year's Super Bowl and to take a hard look at how you handle employee situations. Every time you've let the post-holiday call-in-sick occur, you've told your crew you're OK with them partying so hard they can't make it to work the next day. They've caught on, and now they're taking advantage en masse. Turn this around.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com. You can follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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