World Cup: An acceptable office distraction?

Dear A Second Opinion,

Do you think watching the World Cup or U.S. Open golf tournament should be allowed during office hours?
Anonymous

Anonymous,

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I’d be a hypocrite to say, “No, you absolutely should not watch the World Cup while at work.” I sneaked glances at our newsroom television last week to keep updated on the Americans’ victory over Algeria. (And considering the TVs were tuned in to the game rather than the cable news or C-SPAN, I think my bosses were OK with my watching it for five minutes.)

Now that the Americans are out, I think it might be more difficult to continue watching the World Cup at work. I also find it hard to justify watching the U.S. Open in the office. Whereas it’s an annual event composed of professional athletes playing for money, the World Cup happens only every four years and brings countries together competing for national pride. (The soccer players are professional athletes, too, but in this capacity, they’ve stepped away from their league teams to represent their countries.) The World Cup seems like a more natural fit for members of Congress and their staffers to be supporting during the workday.

My philosophy on this general issue is that if you can get your work done and be available and responsive, you should be able to watch the World Cup for a few minutes, check your personal e-mail every once in a while or make a phone call to the doctor during office hours. I’ve found that people do a better job of — and are happier when — policing themselves than when others do it for them. (I think arbitrary rules that don’t have legal grounding like “You can take one e-mail break per day” or “No non-C-SPAN channels allowed on the office TV” just create resentment.)

It’s when you start watching World Cup games in their entirety during work that you start getting into trouble. That’s not what your employer is paying you for. It’s also a courtesy issue; if you’re watching it online, you’re probably hogging a lot of bandwidth, and if you’re watching it on one of the few office TVs, you may be preventing a colleague from monitoring the House floor or watching for a news event.

Perhaps your best cue will be from your boss. As my colleagues Christina Wilkie and J. Taylor Rushing reported recently, members of Congress have gotten into the international soccer tournament with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he’s trying to watch “all the games I can,” while Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) called soccer “weed hockey” and answered, “No way” when asked if he’d watch any of the games.

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