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Soccer 'flu' hits workers

Jun 25 2010 15:19


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Johannesburg - After a night of football and heavy drinking, 25-year-old Sinehlamhla called her boss and dreamed up the first excuse that came to mind to skip work.

"I told my boss my place was flooded," the sales consultant said. "I had a hangover from the night before. We watched soccer and drank a lot."

An elderly aunt fallen ill, car problems, sudden flu - there's no shortage of excuses at the World Cup, where South Africans are still partying hard even though their team has been eliminated.

And that's a real headache for companies worried about a dramatic drop in productivity.

"I partied all night and the next day at work, I was tired.

"There was no productivity," said Thabo Maswanganye, a 27-year-old claims assessor. Now he just calls in sick.

"It's not bad for the country. We can always cover up. Whatever we do not do, we can do it the next day," he said.

About one third of South African workers will miss at least one day of work to watch a game, which represents about a R750m loss to the economy according to estimates by Alexander Forbes consultancy.

Aside from absenteeism, Africa's biggest economy also risks seeing a big slowdown in activity during the four-week tournament.

"We've lost contracts and activity is dead because we don't have the right to work within a 10-kilometre radius of the stadium and the airport," said the head of a construction company in Cape Town.

Boost to economy

The only way to prevent an exodus of staff in a country fiercely proud of hosting Africa's first World Cup is to allow employees to watch certain matches, experts say.

Many companies played the patriotic card by closing early for the June 11 opening and for the South Africa v France match, which saw both teams crash out of the competition.

Getting out of work for less flashy matches is a trickier task, meaning people either skip work or content themselves with re-broadcasts later in the day.

English teacher Mike McDonald solved the problem by simply taking two weeks holiday so he could hop across the country to watch games.

"It's easier like that," he said.

Some big companies like banks have installed big screens in their offices.

De Beers, the world's top diamond producer, has offered flexible schedules for its 2 500 workers in mines and offices.

Experts say such gestures do limit productivity losses during big events.

"In Holland, about 15% of the companies who provided facilities (to watch games) for their workers maintained productivity or even increased it," said Iggy Sathekge, executive manager of Productivity SA.

"If people feel their company cares for them, they are more willing to work, to do extra hours the next day," he said.

Overall, the World Cup is expected to boost South Africa's economy by a half-point this year, with about 300 000 foreign fans expected to visit, helping seal a recovery after last year's recession.

  - Sapa
2010 fifa world cup
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