The March Madness Conundrum: Should Employers Actually Embrace the Productivity Killing NCAA Tournament?


It’s that time of year again, when water cooler talk turns to talk of brackets, Cinderella, and who still needs to chip in their five bucks for the office pool. The 2017 NCAA college basketball tournament is expected to have a huge impact on economic productivity over the next few weeks, and employers are faced with a question of how to handle the influence March Madness has on their organization. To give you an idea of just how big the tournament is, Athlon Sports says that last year’s tournament cost $1.9 BILLION dollars in hourly losses to companies due to unproductive workers- maybe not much of a surprise when you learn that over 10% of the US population participates in filling out 60 million brackets each year.

Whether an office has historically embraced March Madness or shunned it, March Madness certainly can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.  Big and small companies alike need a game plan. 

What you’re up against

The first challenge employers’ face when it comes to tournament time may be employee absence. There are passionate fans who will take the first two days of the tournament off of work, or who may leave early, to watch the opening rounds. Not having your employees physically at work is a big drain on productivity- especially if multiple people are absent during the same period.

After absence, distraction can be the next big drain on productivity. Whether employees are constantly checking tournament scores online, watching games on a mobile device, or simply discussing the games with colleagues when they should be working. A 2012 study discovered that 56% of workers devote at least one hour of work time to these activities. And, if employees are streaming the games over the web, it can have an impact on your organization’s network for business-related use.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are actually apps and programs that can help employees fake being busy when they’re actually watching games at work- it’s called the “Boss Button.”

Why not embrace it?


Given all of this, it’s inevitable that March Madness is going to impact office productivity, but if managed correctly, it’s also a great opportunity to establish an annual ritual that builds office morale, employee engagement, comradery, and something more than just work.  Encourage any employees who may want to take time off to watch the tournament to schedule vacation or paid-time-off in advance with their supervisor so that the organization can plan around their absence, rather than being caught off guard at the last minute if the employee decides to “call in sick.”

Employers can also cut down on the number of employees watching games on their computers or mobile devices by having the games on in a break-room or conference room, allowing employees to go to on their breaks for updates. This can blunt some of the effect on your IT that employees streaming the games may have.

However, if an employee fails to meet a deadline or if customer service suffers as a result of March Madness distractions, then take action. The key is finding a balance that maximizes the positives while minimizing the business disruptions.

Finally, there may be a local favorite playing in the tournament, or a particular match-up everyone is talking about. In such cases, you may want to host a viewing party with snacks or a lunch. Allowing your employees to watch the game together can be a great way to get them to feel good about the organization.   

This week employers will have a choice when it comes to the NCAA tournament- to crack down and try to keep the action out of the office, or to embrace the madness and join in along with your employees.