All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And this would happen to Ram, Sita and Ganesh too! Extended working hours, meeting endless deadlines and working over the weekend, is the life that most of us live. Our personal space is totally taken over by our profession leading to stress and many times, dissatisfaction. Recognising the need to bring their team back on track and break the monotony of the professional routine, employers encourage various forms of stress relieving activities. Most popular one being sports – cricket, football, golf or rowing. For a sports enthusiastic nation, corporate sporting leagues are a sure way of getting back a fitter employee. It is no easy banter on the field either. Competition is fierce and the results are often thrilling.
Using sports to boost the morale and keep the attrition rate low is a common team building practice in the West. And in recent times, Indian corporates have followed suit in using sport to help their employees get the ‘work–life balance’ right. Vani Aiyer, vice president and client services director of advertising agency JWT, Chennai, says, “Exploding media, consumers with reducing attention spans, evolving deadlines, and raging competitive streaks make the workplace a very high stress environment.” And sporting events help reduce this stress. “It gets the team motivated, we learn more about each other outside work groups and verticals. This results in efficiencies in the workplace,” she adds.
Bhaskar Das, vice-president of human resources at Cognizant Technology Solutions says, “Sporting events do away with corporate hierarchy. Campus fresher and a senior manager could be playing for the same team. There have been instances in our internal cricketing fixtures, where our chief executive has been ‘caught out’ in the very first ball by a young trainee in the organization.”
This evidently leads to a healthy team rapport and better relationship between all levels of management. The experience also increases loyalty, productivity and impacts health positively. Jitendra Joshi, founder and chief executive of SportzConsult, a Mumbai-based sports event management company, says, “It is a great team building tool. Sport allows employees to mingle in a different setting and get to know each other’s interests and skills. You know more about a person in one hour on a playing field than you do in one year of working together.”
Interest in competing for a sports event usually stems from the employees themselves. The level of enthusiasm is more than evident and Bhaskar Das, vice-president of human resources at Cognizant Technology Solutions (Cognizant) can vouch for that. For instance, two years ago, when an internal communication was sent, inviting employees to represent Cognizant in volleyball at the Corporate Olympiad, over a 1,000 employees turned up for screening and practice. “When it comes to cricket, the level of enthusiasm can be gauged by the fact that there are over 256 cricket teams playing tournaments against each other all through the year,” says Das. Cognizant is just one example amidst other corporates that not only match these numbers but exceed them at times.
Be it cricket (which is an obvious list topper on choice), football or golf, professionalism displayed while organising these events is apparent. “Playing for the company is taken very seriously and some companies provide professional coaching to its team before the start of a tournament,” says Joshi. It is no wonder then, sports event management companies are gaining popularity. Companies such as SportzConsult are mushrooming across India to meet the rising demands, evident by the fact that many tournaments are turning to annual formats.
Spotting talent depends on the company. Some use inter-departmental matches to identify talent that will represent the company, while some companies just opt to put out several teams so that more employees have the opportunity to showcase their skills. Companies usually cover all the expenses involved in taking part in a sporting event including entrance fees, transportation, team uniforms and even equipment. And with events and tournaments exclusive to a sector or industry, such as the ‘BPO T-20’ or the ‘Ad Agency League’, competition does hit a bit closer to home and companies are not hesitating to go the extra length.
Apart from building rapport amongst team members, sport does a lot for the individual too. Subash Chandran, assistant manager at Cognizant and the star wicket keeper of the company’s corporate cricket team says, “Being a part of the corporate team and winning for Cognizant is an honor. It feels like an extension of my corporate responsibility. The thrill of playing in a team drawn from so many talented people and the encouragement and recognition provided by the company are what keep me going, inspiring the urge to excel in all that I do, be it the work place or the playground.”
While outdoing the competition always provides an impetus, faring a notch below does not always hurt. As sport is a team activity, in a corporate environment it goes beyond winning and losing. Most employees, bosses and HR professionals vouch that the advantages outweigh the sparse downfalls while it comes to playing sport. This is because competing in a sport is a joint effort on a company’s part. It is not just about the members ofthe team but also non-playing individuals who encourage and support the team that counts. Bosses become cheer leaders and even team mates, while HR lends a helping hand to make the team’s effort unhindered by any form of administrative hiccups. There are no corporate titles. Vice-president is just a batsman and the trainee is the bowler. As Das puts it, “Sporting events do away with corporate hierarchy. Campus fresher and a senior manager could be playing for the same team. There have been instances in our internal cricketing fixtures, where our chief executive has been ‘caught out’ in the very first ball by a young trainee in the organization.” And all of this makes for a healthier work environment which heightens employee productivity.
The most important motivation for corporates to encourage participation in sports is its contribution towards lowering attrition rates. While a direct relation between lowered attrition rates and team sports is difficult to establish, team building activities make an employee think twice about leaving his ‘family’. Aiyer says, “Perhaps, sports help in the long term. But lowered attrition rates are not a direct result. The fact remains that it is part of the whole package – perks, pay, work environment and activities. Life changing decisions are not going to be made by any employee without considering all these.”
From the presence of certified referees to celebrity appearances, corporate sporting events have come of age. Companies are willing to expand their horizons to take into account the interests of their employees. With sports, building team spirit is the hugest plus. Win or lose there is much to be gained in the course of the activity. And as is apparent at the after parties, the smallest celebrations bring people closer. So go team go. De-stress and enjoy work!