Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a global outplacement firm, says employers will experience an inevitable drop in productivity that coincides with March Madness, which begins this week and concludes next month.
The firm estimates in its "March Madness Report" that the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship tournament will cost American companies at least $134 million in “lost wages” over the first two days, as an estimated three million employees spend one to three hours watching games and checking scores, instead of working. According to a survey by MSN and Impulse Research, another 16% of workers expect to spend five hours or more following the tournament.
But John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a press statement: “At the end of the day, March Madness will not even register as a blip in the overall economy. Sequestration is going to have a far bigger impact.” But if you ask department managers and corporate IT managers, the Big Dance will definitely affect the flow of work, particularly during the first week of the tournament, he said.
“People will be organizing office pools, researching teams and planning viewing parties," he says. "When the games begin, many companies will probably notice a significant drop in Internet speeds, as employees start streaming games and clogging up the network’s bandwidth.”
March Madness may waste millions of employee hours (and millions of dollars)—but another survey shows that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“When enjoyed in moderation, there are potential benefits to March Madness activities at work,” says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in the placement of highly skilled administrative professionals. “They can be a morale-booster and bring out team spirit in the office. It provides an opportunity for employees to bond as they talk about scores and root for their favorite schools.”
OfficeTeam asked more than 1,000 managers whether NCAA basketball tournament festivities in the office, such as watching game highlights or engaging in friendly competitions, affect morale and productivity. One in five (20%) felt activities tied to the college basketball playoffs boost employee morale at least somewhat, compared to only 4% of respondents who viewed them negatively.
The majority (75%), however, said the Big Dance has no impact—positive or negative—on morale or productivity.
“[These festivities] may actually keep workers on track by providing them with much-needed breaks,” Hosking says. “Most companies realize that employees who participate in March Madness activities will still likely get their assignments completed–they’ll just compensate for time spent on non-work tasks by shifting their hours or staying late.”
He says it's often smarter for managers to acknowledge the appeal of events like March Madness and provide opportunities for their staff to enjoy the festivities, rather than ignore them. Why? “Employees need a chance to bond with co-workers over shared interests,” he says.
OfficeTeam offered five tips to help companies celebrate March Madness while keeping employees' heads in the game. Here's what they suggest:
- Grant time-outs. Allowing employees to take quick breaks to check scores or chat with coworkers about the tournament can help them recharge. An informal lunch or dinner at a restaurant to watch a big game also can build camaraderie.
- Foster friendly competition. Let staff wear their favorite teams' apparel or decorate their workspaces, within reason, to get in the spirit. Consider organizing an office competition where individuals can win bragging rights or small items such as company-awarded gift certificates without the exchange of money.
- Go over the rules. Clearly communicate policies regarding employee breaks and Internet use so professionals know what's acceptable when it comes to March Madness and other non-work activities.
- Take the lead. Set a good example by showing how to participate in tournament festivities without getting sidelined from responsibilities. If you complete assignments before talking hoops, employees will likely follow suit.
- Evaluate your bench. If team members want to take time off to watch the playoffs, ask them to submit requests as far in advance as possible. This will help you manage workloads and determine if interim assistance is needed to keep projects on track.