Unlike other sporting events like the Super Bowl or World Series, March Madness is a prolonged event; this year it started on Selection Sunday, March 15th, with the first games starting March 17th through this weekend, the "Final Four" and ending with the championship game this Monday, April 6th. There were numerous games played in between those dates – some of which were aired throughout the workday, making it an enticing distraction for many employees!
Cell phones and computers make it easy for employees to regularly and “secretly” check pools, scores, and even streaming games online. It’s inevitable that March Madness is going to impact office productivity, but if managed correctly, it’s also a great opportunity to establish an annual ritual that builds office morale, employee engagement, and comradery.
The ball is ultimately in your court to decide how March Madness fits within your culture; however, the million-dollar question: should employers put a stop to it or embrace it?
Some managers believe it’s all about meeting numbers and employees need to stay focused during work hours and save personal interests during personal time.
The reality is, it’s impossible to stop employees from being distracted during March Madness. In fact, Challenger Gray & Christmas reported “the cost in terms of lost wages paid to distracted and unproductive workers [due to March Madness] could reach as high as $1.9 billion.” However, other reports suggest the potential boost in employee morale outweighs the temporary distraction and productivity loss due to the games.
Bottom line: how you manage and communicate policies during March Madness is key.
Foster Team Spirit and Boost Morale
For managers who want to ensure employees feel valued and satisfied at work, they look for opportunities like March Madness to create fun and camaraderie.
A recent survey by OfficeTeam reported that half of senior managers said activities tied to the tournament – such as office pools focused on the 68-team brackets — boost employee morale, while 36 percent believe March Madness has a positive impact on workplace productivity.
Middle of the Road Madness
Some managers evaluate performance or attendance situations on a case-by-case basis and won’t encourage March Madness activity or pools during the workday. In fact, most managers tend to look the other way and only step in when work falls to the wayside.
Some experts argue that employers have bigger issues to address than whether a few workers are using work time to fill out brackets or checking scores online, and that businesses would be better served by allowing this minor distraction, even during busy work times.
Once the Madness Begins . . .
Whatever you decide, here are some ways to help minimize disruptions and create a positive work environment during March Madness:
• Organize a company-wide pool with no entry fee in order to avoid ethical or legal issues surrounding “office gambling.” Give away a company “gift” (not cash) to the pool winner.
• Make the break room the go-to place for bracket updates and consider putting a television in the break room so that employees have somewhere to watch the games other than the Internet.
• Encourage team spirit and allow employees to wear their favorite team’s clothing and/or decorate their workspace in their team’s colors.
• Allow employees the chance to arrive early on days when tournament games are played during work hours so they can work a full shift and still leave in time to see the games.
• Communicate company policies with employees before engaging in any March Madness activities at work, so it will be clear what is acceptable.
Like it or not, March Madness is an annual ritual that’s here to stay. If customers are happy and the work is getting done, it might be worth the positive employee experience and moral boost. After all, a little distraction could be just what everyone at the office needs. However, if an employee fails to meet a deadline or if customer service suffers as a result of March Madness distractions, then take action. The key is finding a balance that maximizes the positives while minimizing the business disruptions.
Laura Kerekes leads the HR services delivery teams, including an elite group of HR experts and a team responsible for ongoing aggregation and analysis of HR knowledge for ThinkHR. Prior to joining the company, Laura held executive HR officer positions for large multi-national companies including AirTouch and Sygen as well as other companies in high tech, financial services and consumer products industries. Laura holds an M.B.A. with honors in HR and organizational development from Golden Gate University, a B.S. in business administration with honors from The Ohio State University, and an Executive Human Resources Management certification from Stanford University. She also holds an SPHR certification. Connect with Laura on Twitter and LinkedIn.