Employers embrace March Madness despite productivity concerns

Though March Madness can reduce businesses' productivity, many are embracing the culture surrounding the tournament.

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

Call it workplace madness: Businesses trying to somehow salvage productivity while their employees keep one eye on their work and the other on the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The annual March ritual, which begins Thursday with the 12:15 p.m. tipoff between Ohio State and Dayton, will be viewed on office TVs, personal computers, laptops and mobile devices.

Companies stand to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament, according to calculations by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Here's how they arrive at that figure: A 2009 Microsoft survey estimated that 50 million Americans participate in office pools. If each of those workers spend just one hour of work time filling in their brackets, the cost to employers in terms of wages paid to unproductive workers would be $1.2 billion, based on average hourly earnings of $24.31 reported in the most recent employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (50,000,000 X $24.31 = $1,215,500,000).

Of course, this doesn't even factor in employees watching the games during work.

Erin Heldstab, marketing director at Kruggel Lawton CPA, an accounting firm with offices in Elkhart and South Bend, isn't worried. On the contrary, the firm is embracing the tournament as a respite from long hours during the ongoing tax season. The firm is running an office pool, with brackets costing employees, their family and friends $10 to enter.

"This time of year, productivity really isn't an issue," said Heldstab. "Some of our people are working 60 hours a week, so this is to build a little team morale and have a little bit of fun. Our people are professionals. They know their work they need to do."

The company typically brings in pizza for employees logging extra hours on Thursday nights this time of year.

"I imagine during those dinners there will be some good conversation and trash talk that will be happening around the table," said Heldstab, noting she won't be rooting for any team because she's "a football girl."

The Goshen Chamber of Commerce is giving members a chance to enjoy the tourney action while networking, which is productive, said president David Daugherty. In an event new for this year, the chamber has invited members to come to its downtown offices on Friday for Chamber Madness. From 12 to 5 p.m., the chamber will show games on four TVs. Admission is $5 to offset food and drink costs, and the event is sponsored by Interra Credit Union, Applebee's, and Yoder, Ainlay, Ulmer & Buckingham LLP.

Members are encouraged to sport the attire of their favorite teams.

"It will be a chance to catch the games and also catch up with some people you've been trying to get hold of or maybe meet for the first time," Daugherty said. "That's what networking is all about."

Despite the potential for lost productivity, the tournament can actually boost morale and productivity if offices approach it in the right way, said Ellen E. Kossek, the Basil S. Turner professor of management at Purdue University.

"People are working incredibly long hours today in the workplace, and things like tournaments and bringing fun into the workplace can provide bonding, can help us think about how to have fun and feel more like we're talking to our peers," Kossek said.

Kossek said employers can draw several parallels between the game action and what they would like to see in the office. There is teamwork, lessons in leadership, quickly turning changes in fortune, ethics lessons and more.

"Overall, I think we need to make the workplace more fun," she said. "Here in the Midwest, it can be pretty traditional. I think this is a way to show you can adapt to younger generations and new ways of working."


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