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Torching Productivity: 2016 Olympics vs. Work

2016 Olympics LogoThe 2016 Summer Games are expected to break the 2012 London Olympics ratings record as the most-watched event in U.S. television history (1) - and, according to our most recent survey(2), more than 55 million employed Americans may tune in during work hours.

Read on for our key findings:

  • More than an estimated 55 million employed Americans (37 percent) would watch an Olympic event live if it aired during work (3). And of the 73 percent of employed Americans who plan to watch at least some of the 2016 Summer Games, half say they would consider watching an event live even if it took place during their work hours:
    • Nearly one in five (17 percent) would make up an excuse to leave work early, come in late, or play hooky altogether and call in sick.
    • One-third (33 percent) would stream the event live while working.
    • More than a quarter (28 percent) would try to change their shift or work hours.
    • Only 18 percent said they would take a pre-approved vacation or personal day.
  • Basketball, Gymnastics, and Swimming compete for most likely to decrease productivity, increase absenteeism. Employed Americans who admit that they plan to watch the 2016 Summer Games during working hours showed a wide range of sporting interest when asked which of the 28 core events they would most likely watch live (full list available upon request):
    • Basketball won gold as the most popular event worth missing work for, as nearly half (47 percent) may opt for watching hoops over working.
    • Gymnastics (40 percent), Swimming (37 percent), Track & Field (33 percent), and Boxing (24 percent) rounded out the top five events employees would most likely attempt to watch live.
    • Employers may see the highest attendance - and attention - rates at work when Handball (6 percent), Field Hockey (4 percent), and Badminton (4 percent) are scheduled, as much fewer U.S. employed adults are likely to watch these events live.
    • TV still the champ: When asked to state the different ways they plan to watch the 2016 Olympics, the majority of employed U.S. adults who plan to watch any of the Summer Games will do so via live TV (85 percent), while 27 percent may record events and watch later on their DVR. Only 17 percent say they might stream events on a computer, and 13 percent may stream on a smart phone or tablet.
  • Watching at work: a marathon or sprint? More than three-quarters (77 percent)  of employed Americans who plan to watch any of the Summer Games believe it is appropriate for an employee to take time out of the workday to check in on the Olympics  - but how much time will be wasted?
    • More than half (56 percent) of employed Americans who plan to watch any of the Summer Games feel it is appropriate for an employee to spend up to 30 minutes of their workday watching, following, or reading about the Olympics.
    • Nearly 1 in 5 employees who plan to watch any of the Summer Games (18%) feel it's okay for an employee to spend more than 45 minutes of their workday keeping tabs on events or athletes.
    • Good news for employers: Only eight percent of employed U.S. adults who plan to watch any of the Summer Games say it is appropriate for an employee to watch more than an hour of Olympics coverage during the workday.
  • Could the Olympics build team camaraderie in the workplace? While productivity may slow during the Olympics, few employers embrace the opportunity to leverage major sports events to build camaraderie and employee appreciation while managing productivity and absenteeism.
    • Three out of five employed Americans (60 percent) do not believe their employer would support employees watching Olympic events while at work, and 63 percent say their company's culture does not allow the flexibility to watch major sporting events such as the Olympics during work hours.
    • Of those employed U.S. adults who will not watch the 2016 Olympics live during work, 44 percent say it is because it is not possible to do so at their workplace, 37 percent say their workload will not allow for it, and 35 percent fear they will get in trouble with their employer.
    • Yet employees continue to overcome work hurdles to keep track of their favorite sports while on the job, as nearly one-third of employed Americans (31 percent) have watched a major sporting event during work hours even if their employer did not encourage it.
    • There are a few progressive organizations that capitalize on employee passion for competition to build camaraderie, as 25 percent of employed Americans say their current employer has encouraged watching major sporting events at work, such as the Summer Olympics (11 percent).

For help in managing sports related absenteeism, read our ten tips for managing absenteeism.  What is your organization doing to get ahead of an Olympics induced productivity dip?


1: According to The Nielsen Company and NBCUniversal on August 14, 2012, the London Olympics on NBC was the most-watched television event in U.S. history with 217 million viewers. See press release.

2: This survey was conducted online by Harris Poll in July 2016 among 2,010 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, of whom 911 are employed either full-time or part-time. Throughout this press release, "employees" and/or "employed Americans" will be used to represent full- and part-time workers weighted to the online U.S. population.

3: Calculation based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from June 2016 that estimates there are 151.097 million employed people 16 and older in the U.S. (page 4), with 1.839 million employed people 16 to 17 years old (page 20): 151.097 - 1.839 = 149.3 million employed adults ages 18 and older in the U.S. This number was then multiplied by the percentage of people who said they would attempt to watch an Olympic event live during working hours (37 percent): 149.3M * .37= 55.241 million Americans.

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