A Super Bowl Like No Other

Today’s post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

This coming Sunday’s 2021 Super Bowl, like so much of life these days, is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Played in a stadium filled only to about one third it’s capacity and largely by vaccinated healthcare workers, it’s another example of those annual events we think of as permanent and inevitable that this Pandemic has shown us are anything but.

I, for one, am glad that the show will go on in some capacity. I’m a lifelong Eagles fan, so don’t have strong feelings about the Brady/Mahomes showdown, but I know I’ll enjoy watching the game and the ads that accompany it each year which will also, understandably, look quite different from past years.

Another Super Bowl tradition we are keeping alive this year is our annual Workforce Institute Super Bowl survey about how many people are planning to be absent from work the day after The Super Bowl. This is a survey that we have run periodically since The Workforce Institute was formed in 2007 (it actually started two years before that by Kronos). This survey was always meant to be a fun way (speculating about how many people would overdo it on wings and frosty beverages and decide to call into work the next day) to elevate an important issue: unplanned absenteeism.

While some unplanned absences – when an employer isn’t given advance notice that an employee will be out – are unavoidable (real sick days, many personal days), they can be much more disruptive and costly to organizations than planned absences, so the idea is to avoid them when possible. This means making sure that employees feel comfortable taking time off when they want to or need to, and there’s a lot organizations can do to foster this: open communication between managers and employees, a clear time off policy, and creating a culture where employees feel empowered and encouraged to take care of their own mental and physical health before anything else.

So, what did this year’s survey show?

When it comes to the issue of unplanned absenteeism:

  • An estimated 16.1 million U.S. employees say they plan to miss work on the Monday following Super Bowl LV.
  • 8.8 million employees plan to take a pre-approved personal day this year.
  • 4.4 million employees admit they’re planning to call in sick to work even though they aren’t actually sick.
  • More than half of employees (53%) also admit they would be afraid to call out sick the day after the Super Bowl this year because their employer may require a doctor’s note or negative COVID-19 test before allowing them to return to work.
  • Overall, about half of employees (51%) say their employer is proactively planning for the absenteeism that can happen on the Monday after the Super Bowl, down slightly from 56% last year.
  • One cure for the annual Super Bowl hangover that sweeps through workplaces? Nearly two-thirds of employees (64%) believe the NFL should move the Super Bowl to the Sunday night before Presidents Day in mid-February, ensuring the day after the game would fall on a national holiday where many businesses close.
  • Overall, 39% of employees believe the day after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday.
  • The trend of “ghosting”—where employees don’t show up for work and don’t tell anyone they won’t be working—continues to grow: an estimated 2.9 million employees say they’ll “ghost” work this year, nearly doubling last year’s 1.5 million.
  • While an estimated 10.2 million employees say they plan to start work later than normal this year, another 10.2 million will wait until the last minute—either Sunday night or Monday morning—to decide. This means the number of unplanned absences could be even higher.
  • Employees with remote work arrangements may take advantage of being out of sight: a third of employees who work remotely at least some of the time (33%) say they’ll slack off the day after the Super Bowl because their employer won’t know.

New this year (and hopefully for this year only!), we looked at the issue of dangers around getting together to watch the game in person during a pandemic:

  • More than two-thirds (69%) of U.S. employees say they’re worried about Super Bowl-related gatherings turning into COVID-19 “super spreader events.”
  • With the Super Bowl still two weeks away at the time of the survey, more than half of workers (54%) say they know at least one person who is planning to host or attend a watch party this year.
  • More than one in 10 employees (11%) surveyed plan to watch Super Bowl LV at a watch party either in their home or someone else’s home with no COVID-19 precautions (e.g. social distancing, attendance limits, masks).
  • By contrast, slightly more than half as many (6%) plan to watch the game at a watch party with many COVID-19 precautions (e.g. outside, social distancing, attendance limits, masks).
  • Overall, more than half of employees (51%) plan to watch the game at home only with the people they reside with.

Bottom line? I’d encourage employers to take this week to communicate openly and honestly with employees about their Super Bowl plans. Let your employees know that you recognize how hard they have been working and what a stressful time this has been for everyone. If they want to take Monday off, help them make that happen if at all possible. Encourage them to join the majority of folks from our survey who plan to celebrate safely – at home with their household or outdoors in a socially-distanced way with friends. Most importantly, make sure they know they can be honest with you about what they actually do, so that you can ensure that risky behavior off the clock will not put coworkers, customers, or communities at risk when they’re back on the clock.

Will you plan to take the Monday after the Super Bowl off? What do you think employers should do to encourage transparency with employees when it comes to taking time off? Tell us about it in the comments section.

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