The Winter Olympics are officially underway. Millions of Americans are rooting for Nathan Chen to win a figure skating gold medal and wondering if snowboarding icon Shaun White will redeem himself in the half-pipe final. Less discussed: U.S. businesses can expect a $1.7 billion loss in productivity due to employees watching the Olympics at work, according to an Office Pulse study.
More than half of business professionals plan to follow the action in Pyeongchang this month. During work hours, about a quarter of employees will spend up to an hour watching the Olympics, and an additional 12 percent will watch for over an hour, the study shows.
Since most companies don’t set aside time for people to watch the Olympics, seven percent of employees will discreetly watch at the office. Some employees will even use company computers to do so, according to the study.
Fortunately, this Winter Olympics is not expected to decrease productivity nearly as much as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That year, businesses lost $5.4 billion as a result of a massive productivity drop.
A number of companies do allow employees to watch the Olympics at work as long as it “doesn’t interfere with business,” according to the study.
And there are those who argue that encouraging people to watch the Olympics together at work can actually increase productivity. Margot Ross-Graham, a workplace columnist at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), explained that some companies provide TVs in common areas so employees can watch the Olympics together. The “camaraderie of sports” serves as a good bonding opportunity, she said.
Moreover, watching Olympic athletes persevere through setbacks can teach employees to use their failures to propel them forward, according to Ross-Graham.
Integrating the Olympics into the workplace also encourages people to take lunch breaks, which actually increases productivity, Ross-Graham reported. Research shows that getting up from your desk and taking a break in the middle of the day improves your concentration, creativity, and efficiency.
So while we shouldn’t let the action in Pyeongchang distract us from work, remember that a simple 10-minute break to check the medal count won’t be the end of the world.
Read more about productivity loss during the Winter Olympics.