March Madness could cost employers nearly $4B in productivity opening week

But banning employee participation could do more harm than good, consultants warn

Posted March 17, 2016

March Madness has kicked off and employers across the nation are bracing for the inevitable drain on workplace productivity.

While millions of preoccupied workers could cost their employers nearly $4 billion in the opening week of the annual men’s college basketball tournament, the consultants at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. warn that companies may want to think twice about trying to quash employee participation in office pools or other non-work activities related to the games.

“We are approaching full employment across the country,” said Andrew M. Challenger, vice president of global outplacement consultancy for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“In some metropolitan areas, the unemployment is well below the threshold where talent is readily available. In this environment, employers should be taking steps to increase engagement and loyalty, not find ways to crush morale and employee camaraderie.”

While some employed college basketball fans would like to downplay the March Madness impact on productivity, nearly 51 million American workers could participate in office pools this year, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

With average hourly earnings of $25.35, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, each hour of the workday wasted on building brackets or watching games could cost employers $1.3 billion.

“Let’s conservatively assume that workers will spend at least one hour putting together their office pool brackets, and then at least two more hours streaming games during the workday on Thursday and Friday,” said Challenger. “That’s about $3.9 billion in lost wages paid to unproductive workers in the first week of the tournament.

Workers will have more access than ever to March Madness games. NCAA March Madness Live, which allows fans to watch live streams of the games, will now be available across a record 12 platforms.

“When we started looking at the impact of March Madness on workplace productivity over a decade ago, brackets were filled out on paper and fans would actually have to leave the office to watch the games,” said Challenger. “About five years ago, fans with Internet connections at their desks could start watching games. Now, you don’t even need a desk. Anyone can watch from anywhere with a mobile device and decent data stream.

“The level of access is unprecedented, adding more fuel to the March Madness fire. It might be tempting for employers to try to beat back the flames by limiting access to streaming sites or banning office pools, but such a strategy will only backfire,” said Challenger.

Challenger went on to say that efforts to suppress employee participation in the tournament happenings would most likely result in long-term damage to employee morale, loyalty, and engagement, which would outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity.

“Employers would be better off embracing March Madness,” said Challenger. “For example, start a company-wide office pool that is free to enter and offers a free lunch or gift card for the winner. Or, allow workers to come to work during the tournament in apparel supporting their favorite college team (even if that team is not in the tournament). Employers may even want to consider setting up a television in a break room or conference room, so employees can check scores.”


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