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What Does March Madness Have to Do with Employee Engagement?

March Madness: The three-week period during which die-hard and recreational college basketball fans alike come together to watch what has been informally referred to as the "most exciting tournament in college sports."

In each of the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, 68 teams from across the country compete, so there's a reason for just about everyone to watch. And every year, tens of millions of Americans fill out a bracket hoping their predictions will result in the first ever perfect bracket – giving them even more incentive to tune in.

Throughout the tournaments, a number of games are played during normal work hours, so, it’s no surprise March Madness inevitably seeps into the workplace. And while not everyone will be streaming their favorite team's game during the workday, many will periodically check scores online or talk over the previous day's game highlights with their coworkers.

As an employer, you may be concerned about your employees spending time away from work—watching or talking about the games. And while some employers may consider banning office pools and other March Madness activities to combat losses in employee productivity, G&A Partners’ director of corporate HR Bonnie Scherry says, “Not so fast.”

“Throughout March Madness, employers have a chance to engage with employees in a fun way,” Scherry says. “And because so many companies now have remote and/or hybrid workplaces, the tournaments provide managers with the ability to connect with their employees in a way that can have lasting benefits well beyond the championship game.”

In fact, at G&A Partners, we have whole-heartedly embraced the NCAA tournaments. Some of our March Madness employee engagement ideas include organizing companywide bracket contests, encouraging employees to dress in their team’s colors and decorate their desks (in office or at home), and getting employees engaged on our social media pages to promote their favorite teams.

While on the surface, it may seem like these events will reduce productivity, the long-term benefit from boosted morale may be the only guaranteed win of the tournament.

— Bonnie Scherry, G&A Partners’ director of corporate HR

Reasons to Embrace March Madness in the Workplace

Increased camaraderie

The tournament really encourages employees to talk and engage with other employees. They learn about common interests they may share, which helps build relationships across departments and locations. It also gives management a topic of conversation to discuss with employees to better get to know them. Casual conversations like these can lead to other conversations about business that might not have otherwise happened.

Equal chances of winning, regardless of your place on the organizational chart

Employees at all levels compete on the same level in a bracket challenge. And employees always get a kick out of it when their team “beats” an executive’s favorite team or they score more points than their manager. This also helps foster relationships across the organizational chart and creates additional opportunities for conversation.

Employees at all business locations can get involved

Many companies that have multiple locations—especially those with locations across the country or the world—struggle to find activities that engage all employees. Bracket competitions, office pools, or other March Madness ideas for work (which are conducted virtually) allow every employee to participate regardless of their location.

It can help relieve stress and potentially prevent burnout

A 2023 Aflac report on employee wellbeing and mental health stated that more than half (57%) of all American workers say they are currently experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout. The report also noted high levels of workplace stress among employees, with three-quarters reporting at least a moderate level of stress.

“Employers should use the positive, shared experience of March Madness to build much-needed morale for their workers," says Andrew Challenger, workplace expert and senior vice president of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas. “Most work teams are battling at least some burnout, and a break from the pressure in the form of the tournament may help ease that burden."

Happy employees make happy customers

Sherry says any decrease in productivity caused by the tournament is temporary at best and is offset by perhaps a more important metric: happy employees. And happy employees make happy customers.

How G&A Can Help

G&A Partners offers access to HR experts with years of experience helping businesses develop their employees, improve their workplace cultures, implement new HR processes and procedures, and more. Schedule a consultation with one of our trusted business advisors to learn more.