Office Managers Watch over World Cup

A lot of employees are following the monthlong World Cup during the workday. What should managers do? Go with the flow or try to curb worker viewing?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The business news may be delayed, because we're busy watching the World Cup.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Ah, the music's going. Let's go ahead and do it here. Workers of the world are uniting, around the World Cup. Some people are taking time out of their workdays to follow the matches on their desktops or on TV.

NPR's Frank Langfitt visited two very different workplaces, to see how the tournament was affecting productivity. He began in Washington at the World Bank.

FRANK LANGFITT reporting:

The World Bank is a pretty serious place. After all, its job is to reduce global poverty. But come World Cup time, the cafeteria feels more like a sports bar.

(Soundbite of television coverage of the World Cup)

(Soundbite of people cheering)

LANGFITT: Several hundred people are gathered around a giant screened TV to watch England take on Trinidad and Tobago. The Trinidadian's are decked out in the nation's red, white, and black. Some have tied national flags around their heads like bandanas. Just before kickoff, they rise with the crowd in Germany to sing their National Anthem.

(Soundbite of Trinidad's National Anthem)

LANGFITT: A few feet away, Dan Owen(ph), the bank's community driven development coordinator, breaks into an English soccer chant.

Mr. DAN OWEN (World Bank Development Coordinator): (singing) …score, when you get one you get more…

LANGFITT: People from scores of country's work here at World Bank headquarters. Management knows that trying to keep them from watching is impossible. Some employees say they come in early and stay late to compensate for all the soccer viewing.

For fans like Asha Richards(ph), a communications associate from Trinidad, nothing else matters right now.

Ms. ASHA RICHARDS (Communications Associate, World Bank): I'm not at work. I don't care. I'm here watching. I need to be here. We need to lend as much support as possible.

LANGFITT: But World Banker's can't spend all day watching TV in the cafeteria, so some have come up with clever ways to follow the game on their computers. Employees are blocked from downloading outside software, but Almet Berman(ph), who works for the bank's investment arm, found a way around that.

Mr. ALMET BERMAN (Employee at World Bank): I'm kind of obsessive. I befriended the computer administrator, who's actually a Trinidadian guy and he understands. He gave me admin privileges. So I downloaded some Chinese software which allows me to stream Chinese state television. And the best thing is, the Chinese commentator is a woman. She sat next door to the ESPN commentator, so you could still hear the commentary in English.

LANGFITT: Berman, who wears glasses with stylishly thick, black rims, has a project on privatization due at the end of the month. The games are slowing him down.

BERMAN: My productivity was great for the two weeks prior to the World Cup, but now it's kind of dipped by about 60 percent, easily. It's pretty bad. And I shouldn't actually be here right now. My boss wants something done in about an hour, so, I just slipped up. You can't - this is the World Cup, man, you have to.

LANGFITT: So when you go back in an hour, what are you going to say to your boss?

Mr. BERMAN: I'll just avoid her, and wait until she e-messages me. She doesn't like to come to my office anyway. She normally stays away, so I'll be alright. I'll stay until nine o'clock at night anyway, making up for two matches I watched yesterday.

LANGFITT: Fellow Brit Dan Owen, is sitting behind Berman, watching the Trinidad match, which the English go on to win 2-0. Owen says trying to slip out for games like this can be nerve-wracking.

Mr. OWEN: I get anxious when I'm trapped in a meeting and I look at my watch and I realize that it's actually ten minutes until the game's kicking off. And how do you diplomatically, sort of, extricate yourself from a work meeting, from people who might not be fully attuned to the, sort of, general atmosphere and excitement around the World Cup?

LANGFITT: You mean Americans?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OWEN: I was being very polite.

Ms. NICHOLE FROST(ph) (World Bank Employee): I don't get it.

LANGFITT: That's Nichole Frost. She runs the web team in the bank's external affairs department.

Ms. FROST: All I know is that there's a bunch of World Bank people running around talking about the World Cup all the time.

LANGFITT: Frost is from Tempe, Arizona. Soccer means nothing to her. She says the matches are cutting into productivity and people like her have to pick up the slack.

Ms. FROST: You know, you can walk by a meeting space, you can't even get in because they have the TV going. And there's just a ton of people, you know, sitting around watching TV. So you can't have regular meetings. People are not available to even meet, because it coincides with Spain versus whomever. I have colleagues who just kind of almost run me over trying to get to the TV.

LANGFITT: At least World Bank employees are actually at the World Bank. Consider the plight of Alex Posada(ph). He runs Posada's Auto Service in a suburb of Washington.

It's past three in the afternoon, and the Mexico-Angola game is underway. The normally busy garage is practically empty. Shorthanded, Posada can only offer the most basic service to a man who pulls up in a Saturn.

Mr. ALEX POSADA (Owner of Posada's Auto Service): I cannot do the spark plugs today, man.

LANGFITT: Why can't you do the spark plugs today?

Mr. POSADA: I ain't got no guys here, man, to do the work.

LANGFITT: Posada, who is from Columbia, employs four Mexicans. They're watching the game, right now, at a restaurant.

Mr. POSADA: Well, my Mexican guys came early in the morning. They worked real hard until about 1:30. They cleaned up and they said we're going for lunch. So they went for lunch and I hope they're coming back today.

LANGFITT: The Mexico-Angola match actually ended in a 0-0 tie. But that was enough to send Mexico into the next round. And for Posada's workers, it was cause for celebration. They skipped work the next morning. Posada didn't see them again until Monday.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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