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Going Pro: Fantasy Football In The Workplace

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With the professional football season now officially underway, the rush of cheering on their favorite team isn’t the only thing fans are looking forward to. For millions of people across the U.S. the start of football season also means the start of fantasy football.

 

Fantasy football by the numbers

A billion-dollar industry in and of itself, fantasy football has become one of the country’s fastest-growing pastimes. Of the estimated 57 million Americans who play fantasy football, about 37 million are full-time employees. Players spend an average of three hours per week reviewing statistics, drafting their dream players, building the perfect lineup, conducting trades, interacting with the other members of their leagues, etc. Over the course of the 17-week season, that comes to about 51 hours every year.

Fantasy football in the workplace

It should come as no surprise that such a popular hobby has found its way into the workplace. And while some employers might interpret the fact that a good chunk of their workforce spends upwards of three hours a week managing their teams to mean that fantasy football is a potential productivity drain, in reality, it’s likely not as big a problem as it might initially sound.

“Fantasy football carries a perception of being disruptive, but that’s really more of a myth,” says Bonnie Scherry, director of Corporate HR for G&A Partners.

An avid football fan and fantasy football player herself, Scherry says that the majority of time spent actively managing a fantasy team is more likely to be conducted outside work hours.  The larger potential productivity drain instead lies in the time employees might spend discussing fantasy football (or even football in general) at work. But in her opinion, the benefits fantasy football offers far outweigh that risk.

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“Sports is a very easy topic for people to talk about; it establishes a commonality that puts people who might not otherwise interact on the same playing field, so to speak,” Scherry said. “Sports, and football in particular, have long been the subject of ‘water cooler’ conversation. Fantasy football is just the next evolution of those same water cooler conversations.”

How G&A is embracing fantasy football

Those opportunities for conversation are why Scherry is such a fan of using fantasy football as a tool to increase employee engagement, and something she actively encourages at G&A.

“We’re a competitive bunch, and fantasy sports offers a natural way to foster that sense of competition while building relationships across the company.”

G&A Partners has organized leagues in the past, and this year the company is expanding its efforts to include an employee-led Fantasy Football 101 class. The class, which covered the rules and the basics of the platform, was one of two initiatives to make fantasy football more inclusive at G&A.

“The leagues were also organized in a way that grouped people of similar skill levels, with rookies all in one league and veteran fantasy football players in another,” Scherry said. “Not only does leveling out the leagues make fantasy football seem more approachable to people who’ve never played, but it also provides more experienced players with a greater challenge. Everyone has been really pleased with this arrangement so far.”

Fantasy football and your workplace

While fantasy football is already shaping up to be a successful employee engagement initiative for G&A Partners, it doesn’t mean that it will be such an easy process for every company. Scherry offers these tips for employers and HR professionals thinking about making fantasy sports part of their workplace:

  • Know your culture. “Fantasy football can be a great employee engagement activity – participants get to learn more about each other, makes your coworkers better teammates in the workplace. But if fantasy football isn’t something that fits your culture, or isn’t something your leadership will approve of, then it’s likely not a fit for your workplace, and you shouldn’t be afraid to make your concerns known.”
  • Set some boundaries. “Make sure employees know the expectations for ‘on-the-clock’ activities. If you’re really worried about employees managing their teams on company time, you can choose to block fantasy and other gaming sites. If you do set specific rules, make sure they’re communicated to your employees. Even if they don’t like the rules, they’ll abide by them.”
  • Don’t make it about money. “If you’re going to organize company fantasy football leagues, emphasize the fun, camaraderie and competitiveness. Fantasy sports outside of work often involves an element of gambling. If you’re going to offer some sort of reward, make it a small prize. The more money that’s at stake, the more potential for confrontation and other issues.
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And what does Scherry think about the concerns some employers might have about the potential for lost productivity due to participation in fantasy football?

“Employees are more productive when they take frequent breaks. And if your employees are using those breaks to talk with a coworker about their latest fantasy game or a player they want to pick up, that helps raise spirits and makes the office a more fun place to be. Any time your employees can make positive memories at work is a good thing.”

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