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Susan M. Heathfield

Make March Madness a Win in Your Workplace

By March 18, 2014

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For employers, March Madness, the men's college basketball tournament, marks the arrival of several annual rituals: employee-organized office betting pools, a potential dip in employee productivity, and a decline in Internet speed, as employees fill out their betting brackets and watch live streaming broadcasts of the tournament games during office hours.

Indeed, March Madness also provides a team building opportunity for your workplace.

According to John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an outplacement company that tries to predict the impact of March Madness on workplaces. "March Madness and the subsequent office pools have been going on long enough, that employers can no longer claim to be caught off guard by the annual event. Some have tried to squash these pools, most simply ignore them and others have found ways to embrace the tournament as a team-building and morale-boosting opportunity."

A 2009 Microsoft/MSN survey found that 45% of Americans planned to enter at least one college basketball pool last year. Employee activity is generally highest between Selection Sunday, March 16 in 2014, and the end of the first and second rounds. During this time period, people research their teams and pick winners, fill out their brackets, bet in office pools, and watch games online during work hours.

With an estimated 50 million Americans participating in March Madness office pools, companies stand to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament, according to calculations by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Other sources cite up to 100 minutes per employee of tournament watching time during March Madness.

Challenger said: "The impact on productivity comes from several directions. You have employees talking about which teams made or didn't make the tournament. You have other workers setting up and managing office pools. Of course, there are the office pool participants, some of whom might take five minutes to fill out a bracket, while others spend several hours researching teams, analyzing statistics and completing multiple brackets.

"Finally, Thursday and Friday bring the actual games, which typically begin right in the middle of the work day for folks on the east coast. Meanwhile, in California, where tournament coverage begins at 9:00 am, workers can spend the entire workday streaming games on their computer or mobile device."

"As the tournament moves beyond the first and second round, the impact on the employer decreases, since few games are played during office hours and workers can no longer make adjustments to their brackets, thus eliminating the need to research teams," Challenger added.

In a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), two-thirds of employers do not have policies regarding office pools, fantasy sports leagues, or gambling in the workplace and less than 4% (according to Fox News) had ever disciplined an employee for participating in these events. Around 66% of employers monitor some aspect of Internet connection, but many fewer block actual sites.

Challenger suggested that employers might consider using March Madness as an annual team building event. "Companies can use this event as a way to build morale and camaraderie. This could mean putting televisions in the break room, so employees have somewhere to watch the games other than the Internet. Employers might consider organizing a company-wide pool, which should have no entry fee in order to avoid ethical and/or legal questions."

Former About.com Guide, Charlie Zegers considers whether NCAA tournament pools are legal.

Snacks and televisions in break rooms are easy to pull together quickly, and you have a couple of days to consider making March Madness a company team building event. March Madness isn't going anywhere any time soon; so, why not take advantage of the events as a spring celebration?

See the Top 10 Sporting Events That Sap Workplace Productivity.

If you're doing brackets already, why not try out for a $1 billion prize. The odds are long, long, long but why not?

(Information from a Challenger press release, Fox News, and SHRM.)

Image Copyright Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

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