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March Madness Is Here: Will Worker Productivity Disappear?

March Madness at the workplaceIs your water cooler talk aching for fewer rose ceremonies a la “The Bachelor” — and more Derrick Rose? Not to worry, March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, is upon us, and with a vengeance. But what does it mean for workplace productivity?

Talk of brackets, predictions, and major upsets will soon have offices around the country buzzing (including, most likely, yours): 20 percent of workers say they’ve taken part in March Madness pools at work, and nearly one in ten watch March Madness games at the office. How many games? Well, 17 percent spend, on average, more than an hour checking scores while on the clock, according to CareerBuilder’s annual March Madness survey conducted by Harris Interactive© among more than 7,000 workers.

Ladies like basketball, too

While men are more likely to participate in March Madness in the office, with 27 percent joining in office pools, 13 percent of women are sporting their favorite team’s hoodie and checking up on their brackets just as often as their male counterparts.

Regional pride

When it comes to regional involvement, workers in the Midwest were found to be the most likely to place bets at work: 23 percent of Midwest workers took part in March Madness pools, compared to 20 percent in the West, 19 percent in the South and 18 percent in the Northeast. Among larger markets, Washington D.C., Minneapolis and Chicago were the highest-ranking cities.

Productivity and legality

Many employers are likely tensing up right now at the mention of March Madness, and with good reason — for a designated length of time, many employees will either be mentally or physically checked out at certain points during the tournament, either by not paying full attention to their work because they’re checking on games, or by not coming into work at all. Furthermore, many companies struggle with company NCAA pools, which are technically illegal. So what can employers do to fight the onset of worker distraction?

Well, one thing they can do is encourage it — in the right ways. If employees are going to find ways to watch a game no matter what, don’t force them to do it in the bathroom or hidden under the desk (with company hours quickly ticking away). Make the game available in the break room, or invest in a TV if you don’t have one at the office. Post a game sign-up sheet, where employees can request to watch games at certain times. Let employees know they can take time to partake in their pastime, whether at lunch or on work breaks.

Help employees by being a little more flexible in when they can take a lunch or take a break — but make it clear they are still accountable for their work. Work on creating an open culture in which employees understand you respect their interests outside of work, but that they must also respect your time as well as your trust in them to make the right decisions.

Betting on the best beard — and more

OK, so there are those for whom bets are less about advancing teams and more about breaking them up; less about fouls on the court and more about party fouls. Workers shared with us the most memorable office bets they’ve been a part of, and the bets below definitely topped the list. While some are funny, others offer a somewhat disturbing look at what worker morale is like in many workplaces:

  • “Who will be the first person to drink too much at the company party?”
  • “When will someone punch out the supervisor?”
  • “How long will the CEO’s fourth marriage last?
  • “Who in the office will be the last to get their power back after the big snow storm?”
  • “How many accidents will occur at the intersection outside of the office building?”
  • What fake illness will a co-worker call in sick with?”
  • “How long will it take someone to quit?”
  • “When will impending litigation be filed against the company?”
  • “What’s the amount of news coverage a particular celebrity will receive in a week?”
  • “Who will grow the best beard in one month’s time?”

So, tell us — as an employer, do you embrace March Madness at the workplace, or dread the onset of March every year for this very reason?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.
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