With TVs in the break room, some small businesses accommodate, even encourage World Cup fever

By Joyce M. Rosenberg, AP
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some small businesses accommodate World Cup fever

NEW YORK — At Kilkenny House, workers are peering out of the kitchen, catching glimpses of World Cup games on the restaurant’s TV screens. At Edmunds.com, employees and their bosses are gathered in a large room to watch.

Many small business owners are accommodating or even indulging employees’ passion for World Cup soccer, either giving them time off to watch the games, or making it easy for them to follow the matches while they’re working. And not just for the U.S. games. Owners are aware that the diversity of their staffs means many employees are interested in games from a variety of countries.

Still, there is work to be done, and most owners aren’t giving workers unlimited time to watch World Cup. Owners face some of the same issues when March Madness arrives. During the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament, games start at noon Eastern time.

Employees wanting to watch sporting events is nothing new. Decades ago, World Series games were all played during the day, and stadiums were filled with people who took time off. In Chicago, the Cubs didn’t play night games until lights were installed in Wrigley Field in 1988.

Here is a look at how some companies are juggling work and World Cup:


At Ocean View Landscaping in Delaware, owner Mitch Boyle had to cancel jobs the first day of the games, when Mexico and South Africa played to a 1-1 tie. Several of his workers, who are Mexican, told him they wouldn’t be working that day.

Boyle was an understanding boss. “It was important to them,” he said. The Ocean View workers also took some time off when Mexico played Uruguay on Tuesday.

At Tasty Catering in suburban Chicago, a number of employees are also of Mexican origin. The company’s management made satellite radio available to the kitchen staff, which is often at work at 5 or 6 a.m., so they could listen to games, spokeswoman Julie Baron said. For safety’s sake, there’s no TV in the kitchen, but workers can watch games in other parts of the building during breaks.

Baron said managers know that there are a lot of soccer fans in the company, including two who play for professional teams. “They knew that given their culture, that employees would be interested and wanting to follow it,” she said.

Of course, there are many businesses where employees can’t watch because there is no down time. At medical offices, for example, phones have to be answered and patients must be cared for.

At Kilkenny House in Cranford, N.J., owner Barry O’Donovan said the restaurant’s busiest times right now are when the U.S. is playing. “We’re standing room only,” he said, and the staff has to keep serving customers.

When other games are on and business is slower, O’Donovan understands his workers’ desire to keep an eye on the game.

“We know they’re going to watch it,” O’Donovan said. “I’m watching it.”


Many owners have decided to make it easy for staffers to see their favorite teams.

Avi Steinlauf, president of auto information provider Edmunds.com, realized during the 2006 World Cup games that many staffers wanted to watch. This year, the company decided, “let’s get ahead of the curve and really endorse all the matches of all the different countries and facilitate people’s ability to do that,” he said.

Employees can take time away from their desks to watch the three big-screen TVs in a large room at Edmunds.com’s Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters. Some bring their laptops and keep working while they watch.

The plus for the company: “It’s been a great camaraderie builder,” Steinlauf said. “As long as they get their work done, we’re happy with it.”

The company had to hold its weekly meeting shortly before the end of the match between the U.S. and Slovenia. Steinlauf said the digital video recorder was turned on, and then after the meeting ended, employees watched the rest of the game.


Management consultants have long advocated that small companies hold gatherings such as picnics and lunches to create goodwill with employees. Ashley Morris, owner of Capriottis Sandwich Shops, has organized breakfasts at 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. at a restaurant near his company’s Las Vegas headquarters.

At the office, there are four TVs with the sound turned down that employees can look at. “For the most part, they’re working,” Morris said. But, if the U.S. is playing, “we go to Plan B, and allow people to watch it when it’s going on.”

“It’s good to give back to your employees like that,” Morris said.


Some small companies might find their computer networks slowing when employees watch games that are streamed on websites like ESPN and Univision. That makes it harder for anyone to access the Internet or use applications that are run by the company network.

Andrew Rubin, CEO of Cymtec Systems, a St. Louis-based computer networking company, said small businesses typically “don’t have the tools in place to manage the overload.”

Companies that have cable TV can easily set up a central spot where everyone can watch. For those without cable, which can take time to order and hook up, Rubin suggests purchasing a big monitor and streaming the games there. That way, employees who want to watch won’t tax the system.

Rubin said his company has set up a monitor, and told employees they can’t watch at their desks.

“We don’t want 90 percent of our bandwidth going right now to watching this game,” he said.


Owners need to remember that if they give staffers time off to watch World Cup games, they have to offer similar flexibility to all their workers who might want time to attend something that’s important to them.

“People take breaks if they’ve got family commitments. This is just an extension of that,” said Edmunds.com’s Steinlauf.

That means not only the school plays and Little League games that parents want to attend. If you give one staffer the day off to watch the World Cup, then another employee should be allowed to go to an afternoon game between the Tigers and the Yankees.

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