No matter what corporate halls you roam these days, you’re likely to hear some chatter or chest pounding about whose football team is kicking whose ass. Being from Seattle, I love to gloat about my Seahawks every time they pull off a (legitimate!) win. (By the way, you can thank my team later for getting the real refs back in the game.)
Clearly, I’m into sports. So when a manager or executive from another company asks me about my policies around how much time I think employees should be allowed to spend on sports-related talk and activities in the office, I have to work really hard to keep my eyes from rolling back into my head. Policy? Allow? Seriously?
First of all, if you think you can manage employee conversations, you’re playing in your own very special kind of fantasy league. Unfortunately, there can be no winners here. When employers curb the topics that are of interest to their employees, the conversations don’t stop. They just take place somewhere else. Like behind closed doors, at the water cooler, or during breaks that—all of a sudden—become longer and longer and occur more and more often. While you may think you’re nipping a potential “time suck” in the bud, you are in reality taking a bite out of productivity. On the other hand, by letting employees indulge in talking about the things they care about—yes, like their football teams—when and where they want to, you’ll keep all pistons firing.
Plus, a little sports-related bantering and wagering can provide another avenue in which employees can find meaningful connections with one another. Just think how great it feels to realize that someone you work with is also a lifelong Patriots fan or, better yet, shares your deep loathing of the Pittsburgh Stealers. (Pardon me—Steelers.)
Here are a couple tips to get the most out of football season (or any sports season, for that matter) at your office:
Get a Little Personal
Make it an acceptable part of the corporate culture to talk about personal interests and activities while at work. Allow time during the workday, perhaps in meetings, for employees to share something personal, like what they did over the weekend or an update on everyone’s favorite team’s progress.
And remember: This includes you. As the boss, you may feel like you always have to be professional and tight-lipped when it comes to your personal life, but if you’re passionate about sports, don’t be afraid to share that with your team. By opening up and connecting with your employees, you’ll build their trust and be able to better relate to them.
Of course, you don’t want the non-football-watching team members to feel left out. But that means listening to what they did over the weekend, too—not pretending you didn’t spend all Sunday watching the game.
Don’t be a Party Pooper
Hey, a little fun never hurt anyone! And employees shouldn’t feel pressured to work 24/7. If workers are spending a few minutes watching a YouTube clip or organizing their fantasy leagues, let it slide. Knowing that they can let loose and talk about personal interests at work every now and then can prevent burnout, create a less stressful environment, and even build some team camaraderie.
Get Out of the Office
We spend so much time in the office that most employees don’t want social events to take place there as well. So use football season as an excuse to get together with your colleagues outside of the office and connect over a shared interest—meeting at a sports bar on Thursday night or hosting a barbecue and watching the game. (Though you may want to choose a meeting place that caters to more than one interest, so co-workers who aren’t the biggest sports fans still feel included.)
When we connect after hours, bond over our favorite teams, or participate in a little trash talk, it not only provides a basis on which to begin a relationship, it helps solidify friendships, too. And when employees have strong relationships with one another, companies enjoy higher engagement and retention. And you know what that means: They benefit financially.
So while other managers want to shut down the meaningless chatter when football season arrives, I say, bring it on! The upsides might surprise you.