It’s a time-honored American tradition for employees to scramble for excuses whenever work gets in the way of the big game.
These days, more and more companies want workers to watch it in the office rather than call in sick.
Thousands of eager Americans set work aside on Thursday — with or without their bosses’ OK — to watch the U.S. men’s soccer team play Germany in a key World Cup match.
Fans flocked to official watch parties in places like Chicago’s Grant Park, Washington’s Dupont Circle and Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Many more took part in supervisor-approved, morale-boosting breaks at the office.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation hosted a party for its staff of about 100 with a TV and food. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved an extra hour of lunch for all state employees so they could watch the second half.
Matt Rogers of the Washington-based Urban Institute, which held a party for its 400 employees, said the World Cup is a great way to build office relationships.
“We don’t have many moments where you can find a common interest among a big chunk of that population. Sports, and in particular a World Cup-type event with a national team — and tense and dramatic sporting moments — really bring people together,” Rogers said.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann even posted an online note for people to give to their bosses. It asked managers to excuse staff to watch the game for the good of the nation.
“By the way, you should act like a good leader and take the day off as well. Go USA!” he wrote.
At the Department of Transportation in Washington, officials were concerned that so many employees would watch the match online from their desks that it would slow down the agency’s computer network.
“We are going to monitor bandwidth utilization throughout the day and we’ll plan to block the streaming sites should we encounter any network issues,” Todd Simpson, the department’s associate chief information officer, warned in an email to workers.
John Challenger, the CEO of executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., estimated Thursday’s match could cost U.S. companies $390 million in lost wages.
But Challenger added that in an era of increasingly scattered workplaces, an investment in something that brings staffers together might not be such a bad idea.
“It’s what I would call a good buy for companies,” Challenger said. “It’s just like if you invite your team out to have drinks after work. You’re spending it on enhanced morale…and trust among your people.”