March Madness distracts the American workplace


Fifty million American employees will take time during the workday to participate in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this year and could cost employers a total of $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour, according to a study by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Fans make their selections at National Bracket Day in Atlanta, March 17. AP photo
Fans make their selections at National Bracket Day in Atlanta, March 17. AP photo

The NCAA tournament, appropriately nicknamed “March Madness,” features 64 basketball teams from across the country that battle it out for the national title. The first week of tournament play provides almost nonstop action that can be streamed live to any and every office, cubicle or conference room.

“The impact on productivity comes from several directions,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “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.”

Statistics that clearly define how much work time employees really dedicate each year to the basketball-mania are difficult to find. In 2009, a survey by Microsoft estimated that 50 million employees would participate specifically in office-organized pools. This number does not account for those employees who choose not to fill out a company bracket but still spend time watching games, filling out personal brackets and checking scores.

Fifty-six percent of employees plan to spend at least an hour per day cheering on their favorite teams from work. If that number holds true, then $1.2 billion will jump to $1.9 billion, including those employees who won’t fill out brackets but who still participate in other ways.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the hourly earnings average in the U.S. is currently around $24.31. Multiply that number by 50 million employees, and you have $1.2 billion spent on unproductive employees in just one hour.

Challenger explained that inefficient employees are not the only expense March Madness brings to the workplace. With the possibility of streaming games to mobile devices, laptops and company computers, IT professionals will surely report a huge dip in companies’ Internet speeds and a massive increase in bandwidth usage.

The tournament may sound like an enemy to corporate America; however, Challenger said companies embrace the distraction.

“Department managers may notice that their workers are more distracted, and the IT department may notice the loss of bandwidth,” Challenger said. “However, at the end of the day, it is unlikely that a few days of March Madness distraction will impact the company’s bottom line. Taking a hardline on office pools and online streaming, on the other hand, could have a dramatic impact on the bottom line if it leads to increased turnover or causes employees to become disengaged, which will not only lower both the quantity and quality of work output.”

Nu Skin, a billion-dollar enterprise0 founded in Provo, embraces the college basketball craze. According to an article in the Daily Herald, a “dominant feature” in Nu Skin’s recently constructed, corporate headquarters is a 50-foot LED Dream Wall that will be used during the tournament as the best place for employees to view the games.

Challenger agrees with the Nu Skin philosophy of utilizing the popularity of the tournament as a tool to increase the well-being of employees and the workplace.

“Employers may want to seek ways to use March Madness as a tool to increase employee engagement,” Challenger said. “Promoting a company-wide office pool that is free to enter, for example, could help boost camaraderie and encourage interaction among coworkers who may not typically cross paths. Relax dress codes, and allow workers to wear sweatshirts and t-shirts in support of their favorite team.”

This year the madness tips off Thursday morning, Mar. 18.

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