Nearly one in ten (8%) employees would consider taking a sick day when they are not ill during the World Cup, according to the latest research from Canada Life Group Insurance. Replicated in the working population, this equates to 2.4 million employees, suggesting a significant loss to productivity across the country should staff decide to take unnecessary sick leave. Men are also more than twice as likely as women to take sick leave (14% v 6%).

On average, employees would take a total of 1.8 days of sick leave when they’re not ill during the World Cup, although over a third (35%) would take two to three days off and 7% would take four to five. Dedicated football fans would even consider taking more than seven working days of unnecessary sick leave (4%) during the tournament.

Time difference, alcohol and good weather drives up likelihood of ‘World Cup Bug’

With this year’s World Cup taking place in Brazil, the time difference has a significant role to play in the likelihood of employees pulling sickies before or after a match. Almost half (46%) – 53% men v 41% women – say that the time difference means they are more likely to take sick leave when they are not ill during the tournament, as several matches kick off as late as 11pm, meaning they will go on well into the night.

Drinking alcohol while watching the game means 40% (47% men v 34% women) are more likely to call in sick the next day, while 41% (39% men v 43% women) agree that having friends or colleagues taking time off work (either annual leave or sick leave) would encourage them to call in sick despite not being ill. Good weather on a match day would make a third more inclined to use a sick day to watch the game.

Success equalises the genders though, with almost two thirds (61%) agreeing that if their team made the semi-finals they would be more tempted to pull a sickie, and virtually  the same proportion (60%) agreeing that this would be the case should their team make the finals.

What employers can do to avoid empty offices during the World Cup

Flexible working hours (35%) are cited as the offering that would discourage employees from taking unnecessary sick leave during the World Cup the most.  Similarly, almost a third (30%) would be persuaded by the ability to work from home. Almost one in ten (9%) believe being rewarded or incentivised to turn up for work would be most likely to stop them from calling in sick under false pretences, but men are three times more likely than women to want there to be less stigma around taking annual leave for sporting events (6% v 2%).

Which of the following would most encourage you not to take unnecessary sick leave during the World Cup? %
Flexible working hours 35%
Ability to work from home 30%
Matches being aired at work (wherever possible) 18%
Being rewarded or incentivised for turning up to work 9%
The option to take time off as unpaid leave 5%
Less stigma surrounding taking annual leave for sporting events 4% 

Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, comments: The World Cup only comes around once every four years, so it’s unsurprising that a lot of people don’t want to miss it, particularly men. However, with almost one in ten employees prepared to call in sick when they’re not ill during the tournament, it’s important that employers do their best to prevent the ‘World Cup Bug’ spreading and resulting in empty offices.

“Rather than hoping for bad weather or a national alcohol shortage, employers could consider engaging with their workforce to understand the ways in which they can support each other collaboratively at this emotionally-charged time. Having an honest discussion with staff about what they need to keep them motivated, healthy and productive can pay dividends in the long run.”