March Madness: The three-week period during which die-hard and recreational college basketball fans alike come together to watch what has been informally dubbed the “most exciting tournament in college sports.” With 68 teams from across the country playing the single-elimination tournament, there’s something for everyone to watch and, indeed, it seems like everyone did watch last year. The 2015 tournament had the highest ratings in more than two decades, with an average viewership of 11.3 million people. And an estimated 60 million Americans fill out a bracket with their predictions on which teams will reign supreme throughout the tournament, giving them even more incentive to tune in.
With so many games and so many people watching the tournament, a number of which are played during normal work hours, it’s inevitable that March Madness would seep into the workplace as well. About 22 million of the people filling out those brackets do so to participate in some sort of office pool, either officially sanctioned by the employer or off the books. And while not everyone can get away with streaming their favorite team’s game at the office, most can’t help themselves from checking the scores online throughout the day or talking over the previous day’s game highlights with their coworkers.
If you’re an employer, March Madness is probably starting to sound like a nightmare. If your employees are spending all of their time watching or talking about the games, when will they have time to get their work done? Bonnie Scherry, G&A Partners’ director of Corporate HR, offers some sage advice to employers that are considering banning even the mention of March Madness from their offices.
“Employers should ask themselves whether they want to be known as the company that tells their employees they can’t participate in March Madness activities,” Scherry advised last year. “In the end, employees will still watch the games on their phones or tablets whether their employers approve or not, just like many employees still access social media sites even though they’ve been instructed not to do so.”
Instead, Scherry recommended employers embrace March Madness as an employee engagement tool.
“While some employers may experience a dip in employee productivity during March Madness, there are certainly benefits for organizations who take advantage of the possible opportunities to increase employee engagement during the tournament,” Scherry said.
And although outplacement Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported last year that employers could wind up paying out more than $1.9 billion in wages to employees who are distracted or unproductive during March Madness, the problem may not be as prevalent as people think: In an anonymous poll of employees who participated in G&A Partners’ March Madness bracket pool last year, the majority of respondents said that they spent less than one work hour creating or checking their March Madness brackets. What’s more, the majority of managers polled said they did not see a noticeable difference in productivity due to March Madness activities in the office.