Why HR Can Longer Ignore the “Sportpesa” Wave

Why HR Can Longer Ignore the
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A few years ago, gambling in Kenya and East Africa at large was restricted to a number of places. Anyone who wanted to place a sport bet or gamble had to find their way into the restricted area. There was also stigma attached to the practice.

Then a new wave hit the town like tsunami and before one could even blink, a number of gambling enterprises were doing some cool business.

The media was and still is at the forefront minting millions of advertising revenues as they put the betting brands right before our eyes and minds daily.

The Marketing and PR units within the gambling enterprises went on an overdrive and came up with psychologically tested ways of increasing their “niche” of gamblers by conducting well publicized grand ceremonies to celebrate and award the “new millionaires” in town

The allure of making quick bucks and joining the new brand of Kenyan celebrities courtesy of the gambling business got real and can no longer be ignored.

Trending stories of how some lucky Kenyan placed a bet worth one hundred shillings only and landed some few million shillings in return have gone a long way in creating new client base who hope to recreate the cycle of victory.

On the other side of the betting coin are ten million other stories that we rarely hear. Stories of men, women, employees, students, house helps etc who lost their entire financial fortune in the gambling mill. All other faculties of their lives followed them down the drain not mentioning broken families and suicides.

One entity that can longer sit back and hope people will be wiser are the employers courtesy of their HR functions.

The citizens betting comprise a good percentage of employees who seem to have some bit of financial power to place the magical bets and pray for multiplication miracles and picking of their lucky numbers.

Employees are human beings thus they too could get hoodwinked into the gambling craze with the hope of earning some extra income. To some, betting could deceitfully turn out to be their much sought after “Kenyan dream” – the side hustle.

While it may seem harmless to employees at the beginning, gambling soon rears its ugly head at the workplace in a number of forms which end up affecting not only the employees but the organization as well.

In order to create a culture denoting concern and duty of care to staff, HR may have to take note of the new wave and be proactive in creating awareness to employees on the dangers and long term impacts of gambling.

While policies have been the hallmark of HR practice, this wind of challenge may call for a different approach beyond pointing staff to the staff handbook.

HR teams will need to create programs to help first those who are yet to cross over to the “promised land” of millions and then second to deal with those possibly or already converted into the “new cult” – Kenya’s new dope.

While crafting the SoS programs, HR will need to be on the lookout for the slightest sign of gambling activities and possible addiction amongst employees. This could manifest in a number of fronts which include:

Signs related to personal/time management

  • Employees’ persistent lateness for work, absent at meetings, late for appointments
  • Staff having unexplained absences or disappearances, leaving work early to gamble
  • Staff reading lots of gambling related material – either hard or soft copies and visiting online gambling sites
  • Excessive use of sick days
  • Employee vacation time centred around gambling activities
  • Office lunch breaks are used by staff to gamble or place bets. Some could even have formed gambling teams within the employee ranks
  • Staff frequently requesting breaks to use phone
  • Employee having frequent mood swings
  • Abuse of office/work phone privileges
  • Selling “personal” goods/property at work

Financial related signs

  • Employee always borrowing money from co-workers or always asking for advance payment
  • Staff requesting to paid cash instead of taking vacation time in lieu of overtime worked
  • Persistent arguments with colleagues over debts owed to them
  • Employee’s spouse making enquiries about their salaries – Neglect of family responsibilities
  • Disappearance of portable office merchandise or property
  • Frequent request for petty cash – staff using petty cash to float an overnight loan using falsified expense accounts/explanations
  • Defrauding, embezzling funds or even borrowing money from clients
  • Using corporate credit cards or other company funds to gamble

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Performance related signs

  • Sudden or gradual decline in employees grooming habits appears sleepy, eyes bloodshot, depression/anxiety.
  • Drop in work capability and efficiency.
  • Staff getting preoccupied, lacking in concentration with work deadlines rarely being met.
  • Persistent complains about financial, family or other personal difficulties.

If the gambling craze infiltrates the senior business leadership, legal suits may soon be the norm of the day in cases where gambling bosses embezzle funds from clients to pay off gambling debts.

Prior to framing a solution to combat the gambling menace, it is important for HR and the organizational leadership to realize that this is an issue that cannot be resolved by pointing staff to age-old policies and imposing certain restrictions at the workplace.

A collaborative psycho-social approach would go a long way in helping employees to either safeguard or pull themselves out of the mire of gambling.

Banning personal use of internet at the workplace will rarely work in this age of smartphones and affordable internet. If anything, employees already know that such an exercise would lead to trouble and those who are already gambling will in many occasions use their mobile devices.

Firing those found culpable will be pushing the social malady to another location beside the organization abdicating a social responsibility it has toward its staff.

The Solution

Creating or enforcing policies around the habit to discourage the vice is a step in the right direction but insufficient in itself. It calls for more.

HR must take a quick step toward developing programs that will create awareness and inject a sense of responsibility amongst employees.

Staff must be sensitized on the impact of the gambling practice.

Encouraging an open non-threatening environment where victims can share their experiences and seek help. This will go a long way in dealing with the mess besides creating a positive deposit in the employee engagement account.

Involve line manager and supervisors

Line managers cannot be ignored in this fight. HR must empower their line managers and supervisors with the right counselling skills and information on how they can help their teams walk safely on this path of “promised financial freedom” without losing their hard earned cash.

Professional help

Seeking professional help from counselling experts would add positive strength to this noble exercise.

The blind guides!!

My hope is that the HR team, the senior leadership and the line managers themselves will not have already been converted to the “Betting Salvation Army” since one blind person cannot lead another blind one. They will both find comfort in the pit of destruction.

Gambling and the entire sport betting business is here to stay and the negative impact will be felt far and wide albeit silently. Most of this pain could be masked or rather hidden in the workplace thus the need for concerted efforts by employers to find ways of helping their most treasured business assets before they get decimated by the allure of making riches through luck.

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