Watching the Winter Olympics at work to cause $1.7 billion in productivity losses, study shows

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
February 14, 2018, 10:50:55 AM EST

New data from a survey conducted by Captivate’s Office Pulse reveals that watching the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in the office will spur on a $1.7-billion loss in workplace productivity.

The survey polled more than 560 white-collar professionals in the United States on topics including who’s interested in the Winter Olympic Games, favorite Winter Olympic sports to watch and whether their employers allow them to view the events at work.

“It’s not every year that these [kinds of events] are happening, especially because the last Winter Olympics were in 2014, so we wanted to see what kind of an impact this event has on business professionals, especially during the workday,” said Heather Chigas, Captivate’s work/life expert and research director.

US luge team, 2018 Winter Olympics

Matthew Terdiman and Jayson Mortensen of the United States take a curve on their first run during the men's doubles luge final at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

According to the survey, 56 percent of business professionals plan to tune in to the 2018 Winter Olympics, with 7 percent of professionals watching secretly in the office.

Captivate took into account the survey participants’ jobs, genders and ages, finding that the Winter Olympics is quite popular among individuals aged 18 to 34 and much less so among older adults.

“Millennials are really into the Olympics,” Chigas said. “Thirty-three percent felt that the conversations during the workday are very morale-boosting; whereas, 38 percent of Baby Boomers found the conversations to be distracting.”

Overall, 40 percent of office workers intend to watch the Olympic Games for less than 15 minutes, while 24 percent will spend between 15 minutes to an hour viewing the events at work.

Twelve percent of those surveyed plan to spend an hour or more watching the Olympics while on the clock, the survey revealed.

Based on the survey results, Captivate anticipates over a billion dollars lost in productivity at work but found that the losses were down from the $5.4-billion losses expected during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Surveyors calculated the $1.7-billion loss by taking into the account the number of U.S.-based employees, the 56 percent of professionals intending to watch the Winter Olympics and the average hourly rate in the U.S.

Potential impacts on workplace productivity

There's an unspoken understanding that these events are of national and cultural significance, so declined productivity is expected,” said travel blogger and sporting event enthusiast Donnalee Donaldson.

For those who are serious about winter sports, workplace productivity might start to decline from long before the day of the event, she said.

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“For people who are going to travel to the event, many hours are invested into planning the perfect trip,” Donaldson said. “For example, there are a number of Facebook groups full of strangers already planning for the 2020 [Summer] Olympics in Tokyo.”

While Donaldson considers groups like these to be a great planning tool for those with proper time management, those who are already prone to slacking off on social media at work might experience a further drop in productivity.

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The frenzy to obtain coveted event tickets means that an event can sell out within hours or even minutes, Donaldson said.

“If you're at work when the tickets go on sale, you might not pay attention to tasks at work, as you might be too busy trying to secure your entry,” she said.

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Despite the anticipated losses, Chigas said the morale boost is a positive result of being permitted to view Olympic events at work.

“By employers allowing their employees to watch the Olympics maybe for a half hour or an hour during the day during lunch or a break, I think it’s going to make it a more positive workplace environment,” Chigas said.

“They’re getting a chance to see something that doesn’t always happen, and we may see something historic happen at this year’s Olympics,” she added.

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