Some workplaces catching Jays fever, letting employees watch first playoff games

TORONTO — Workplaces across Canada are acknowledging that some of their employees have come down with serious cases of Blue Jays fever and are finding ways to provide on-the-job relief.

Tactics range from setting up TVs or webstreams in common spaces, showing flexibility for individual time-off requests, and in one extreme case, turning thousands of head office workers loose to cheer on Canada’s only major league baseball team as it begins its playoff run.

Canadian Tire Corp. announced it would be closing corporate offices in Toronto and Calgary on Friday, giving roughly 5,000 employees the chance to take in the 12:45 p.m. ET game between the Jays and the Texas Rangers. The company is also organizing viewing parties for Thursday’s late-afternoon series opener, which gets underway at 3:37 p.m. ET.

They include workers at Mark’s and SportChek, part of the Canadian Tire family.

Michael Medline, Canadian Tire’s chief executive office, says the company made the decision after Major League Baseball saddled the Jays with inconvenient daytime game slots — and called it an easy one to make.

“People here are going to want to watch that game,” Medline said in a telephone interview. “We’re living in a digital age, we’re a digital company, so they’re going to figure out a way to see this game. Let’s make it easier for them, and let’s do it so, if they can, they can watch it with friends and family.”

The move was loudly lauded on social media as gleeful employees told of their unexpected opportunities to watch the Blue Jays’ first playoff game in 22 years. Industry observers also watched the decision with interest, saying it highlights the difficult balance today’s businesses need to strike between employee satisfaction and company productivity.

Jim Fisher, professor emeritus of leadership at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said corporations that ignore the outside interests of their staff do so at their own peril.

Gone are the days when businesses could ignore the fact that life goes on outside company time, he said, adding those that fail to account for employees’ personal circumstances run the risk of both damaging internal morale and harming their external brand.

But business still has to come first, and Fisher said companies must walk a fine line.

“You have to do it in a way that respects the importance of the work and doesn’t send a hidden, unintended message that your work doesn’t matter,” he said.

Fisher said corporations can strike that balance by setting up communal viewing spaces to discourage staff from depleting valuable tech resources by streaming games to their computers or smartphones.

But such arrangements can also leave some workers feeling resentful, he cautioned, since factory employees, sales associates and other frontline workers usually don’t have the option of taking impromptu breaks to watch major events.

Medline said Canadian Tire grappled with that very dilemma and acknowledged that Friday’s off day would only benefit office staff, since retail locations across the country will maintain normal hours.

Major corporations aren’t the only ones to feel their hands are tied.

Toronto Mayor John Tory lamented to Zoomer Radio on Wednesday that he doesn’t have the power to declare holidays, but said both Thursday and Friday afternoon would have earned that designation if he’d had his way.

And sometimes, even when bosses want to hop aboard the Jays juggernaut, it’s the employees who stand in their way.

Matt Morrison said he’d love the chance to give the seven workers at his Vancouver-based website development company the day off, but none of them are showing any interest.

Nonetheless, the diehard Jays fan said allowing employees the chance to watch historic sports events strikes him as a smart and simple way to create a positive workplace.

“There’s not a lot of really big perks we can offer, especially as a small business, so when things like this come along I think: ‘Well, this is something fun that . . . makes life a little bit more enjoyable, makes the workplace a little bit better.'”

Follow @mich_mcq on Twitter


Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press