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March Madness can sap job productivity, boost morale

  • Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at 10:08 p.m.

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Keeping score

• 20 percent: The percent of managers who feel March Madness activities improve office morale, according to an OfficeTeam survey

• 35 million: The number of Americans taking part in college basketball tournament office pools, according to a 2011 NCAA estimate

• 8.4 million: The estimated number of work hours spent watching NCAA tournament games in 2011, according to a report from business consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas

• $175 million: The negative financial impact of the work hours spent watching games during the first two full days of the tournament, according to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas report

As March Madness descends, bringing brackets, pools and hundreds of hours of college basketball coverage, employers would do well to let workers know where they stand – not on the topic of Indiana vs. Duke or Gonzaga vs. Kansas, but on their view toward monitoring sports events at work.

During the National College Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament, it’s not uncommon for a worker’s attention to wander. Starting with Selection Sunday and running to the championship game on April 8, this three-week stretch offers a great opportunity for distraction.

Interest is likely to be especially intense next week, when a steady stream of daytime games will be played.

Passing on work

Not long ago, employees who wanted to see early round games broadcast live had to dedicate a vacation day or two to lying on the couch, TV clicker in hand. Now, all 67 tournament games can be viewed live for a small fee from a computer, iPhone, iPad or Android device.

This can present a problem for employers who fear a game-time dip in productivity and a strain on IT resources. However, damage can be mitigated if employees have a clear understanding of their boss’ position.

A company may already have the March Madness issue covered under a blanket Internet use policy. If Internet access is for work-related purposes only, it wouldn’t hurt to remind employees of that fact before the tourney begins.

Employees also should be aware that the company may monitor and audit their Internet use. Employees should not expect their computer use to be private and should be made aware of policies that might limit cellphone use during work.

“A reminder to employees around this time of year about policies may be all it takes to curb the kind of overzealous participation that kills productivity,” said Katie Loehrke, an editor with J.J. Keller & Associates Inc. “No matter what the distraction, employees should always be held to the same standard of performance. If they can’t be part of a March Madness pool and still be productive, discipline may well be in order.”

Rally the team

Rather than trying to quash employee access to scores and games, employers might want to consider how they can make interest in the tournament work to their advantage. A company-wide pool that allows employees to fill out the brackets for fun – and does not involve cash prizes or an entry fee – could be an ice-breaker, and chatter about last-second victories and upsets offers an opportunity for employee bonding.

Employees might rally around a casual day that allows them to wear the colors of their favorite team, appreciate flexible hours that allow them to catch a big game, or watch the action at designated times during the day.

Get a game plan

When J.J. Keller asked human resources professionals from around the nation for their views on handling popular events such as March Madness, it found that company expectations are key.

When employees are clear about their responsibilities, putting a little play in the day can positively charge the workplace atmosphere. Employees who are closely attuned to a company’s goals may bring it upon themselves to find the balance between fun and job obligations when there’s a special event going on during the workday.

A company can work within its policies to allow workers access to information. For example, an organization that does not allow employees to bring their cellphones or other portable electronics into the office may let workers check scores online while on break or watch games during their breaks.

However a company handles the issue, managers, supervisors and employees should all be aware of the company’s stance. Clearly communicating the policy, and letting employees know what’s allowed and when, can keep morale and productivity high.

Properly handled, an event that generates high interest such as March Madness doesn’t need to be a negative. It can help a company boost morale while underscoring the importance of everyone’s contribution to the organization’s success.

Terri Dougherty is an associate editor at J.J. Keller & Associates, a compliance resource firm. More information is available at www.jjkeller.com

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