Closed for business: Brazil 2014 and productivity

Conventional wisdom has it that productivity declines during World Cup tournaments. Judging by what we usually see, with people looking to take time off work legitimately or without permission, for part- or all-day, we think that much less work gets done and what is done is likely to be half-hearted. However, a contrary view exists, which argues that interest in watching World Cup matches makes people more focused on the work they have to do, complete tasks faster to avoid missing matches, and avoid other distractions so that time is available to do what is necessary and also watch matches.

I am very sympathetic to that latter view, as it conforms with how I arrange my time. I work backwards from game time and make sure that the essentials are done and that I can rock back and get crazy in peace (that is an unintended oxymoron). It is also important that others realise that interruptions that were created before and tolerated, are now less likely to be welcome. So, please do not call me during the match. Send messages by all means and expect replies once matches are over. Men are usually the ones who put down these limitations. I wondered aloud yesterday, during the opening match, whether we could find an app to help us. My wife’s nephew, who was watching with me, told me that an app existed that tracked the match schedules and sent reminders to listed persons to not send messages. Not quite what I had in mind, but workable. My wife called me when the match had about 15 minutes to run. Why? “What’s happening?” she asked. “The game’s on,” I replied. I hung up. She sent me a message. My phone was turned off. Focus, people, focus!

I am due to travel this weekend and had some commitments to shop for my school PTO. I decided that leaving it to Thursday was not a good idea because the opening match between Brazil and Croatia would be played. I decided to bring forward the shopping to Wednesday and leave Thursday free for inevitable little odds and ends. So, I hit PriceSmart just around 2pm and was done just after 3. I then dropped the items at my house and went to school to collect my daughter. I had just squeezed myself a little.

I remember this being the routine in London, when I worked there. It was not the same in Washington, even though a lot of employees were from football-mad countries, the general atmosphere in the USA was more subdued overall when it came to World Cup games. I was more likely to make a nice easy arrangement with a friend to watch games at his house, and he would often not bother with time shifting by arranging to take a big chunk of his leave to cover the early rounds of matches.

I was happy with how I had managed my time yesterday. When I got home with my daughter and her friend, whose mother had asked if I could take her home, I saw that the assembled household was ready for the match. I pulled up my own armchair. We settled in and let the screaming begin.

During the match, my mind flitted back and forth to this productivity argument. We are looking at the wrong thing. Measuring product and production, or income, or employment, is never a great way to assess how well people are doing. Economists love it and have sold it to politicians. What we should look at more is the concept of happiness. Surely, overall, the world was going to be happier over the next month. Yes, people would sulk and groan when their teams lost, but in general people had positive attitudes and better sense of well-being. Gross domestic happiness measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms.

Sticking with the happiness index seemed to make more sense to me. I would suggest that most decision makers take the same view and not stress about output and productivity over the coming 30 days. If they looked at the list of the world’s happiest and saddest places, they would also find that they are more content thinking of themselves as tending towards the Norways of the world (#1)

Norway is the world's happiest country
Norway is the world’s happiest country

than the Zimbabwes (#109) or Central African Republics (#10)

Zimbabwe ranks near the bottom in happiness
Zimbabwe ranks near the bottom in happiness

Traditionally, Jamaica is seen as one of the happier places (#40), and we should rock and think about getting that level up. Funnily, the government did a part to make that happen yesterday by agreeing to decriminalise the possession and smoking of ganja (marijuana). ganjaWhat impeccable timing! It is not a done deal and when the laws will actually change is unclear.

Brazil also has its place in our minds for happiness and living well. I’m happier pushing that line of propaganda for the next month. They won 3-1 against Croatia, by the way, after a scare early on.

Neymar! Scored the 2nd goal from a penalty kick
Neymar! Scored the 2nd goal from a penalty kick

New hero-to-be, Neymar, scored the first two goals, and relieved whatever headache was building after teammate, Marcelo, kicked the ball into his own net to give the Croats the lead.

I saw images of Jamaicans in bars and on the streets enjoying ‘their’ team’s win. We’re happy and we know, we’re clapping our hands.


Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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