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Stop the Madness? Employers Divided Over Impact of NCAA Tournament on Office Productivity

Two-thirds of workers will be following March Madness during work hours, with 20 percent expecting to spend at least one hour following games.

| BY Donald Liebenson

Should employers concerned about office productivity try to keep a lid on employee engagement with the NCAA tournament that begins this week? In the immortal words of the Bard, “Oh, that way madness lies.”

The first round of the near-month long 2013 NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball champion tournament tips off March 19  with the “First Four:” Liberty  vs. N.C. A&T and Middle Tennessee State  vs. Saint Mary's (Cal). This is literally big business. USA Today reports that total TV ad revenue for the NCAA tournament surpassed $1 billion for the first time last year, surpassing even the Super Bowl.

An MSN survey found that two-thirds of workers will be following March Madness during work hours, with 20 percent expecting to spend at least one hour following games, 14 percent spending three to four hours, and 16 percent saying they will spend five hours or more watching games instead of working.

But the question of what impact the tournament has on worker productivity is not necessarily a slam dunk.  Challenger, Gray & Christmas’s annual March Madness “study” (the quote marks are theirs, not ours) estimates that March Madness will cost American companies at least $134 million in “lost wages” over the first two days of the tournament. This is actually down from last year’s forecasted tab of $175 million.

“At the end of the day, March Madness will not even register as a blip in the overall economy,” said CEO John A, Challenger in a statement. “Sequestration is going to have a far bigger impact. Will March Madness even have an effect on a company’s bottom line? Not at all. But, if you ask department managers and corporate IT managers, March Madness will definitely have an impact on the flow of work, particularly during the first week of the tournament…. People will be organizing office pools, researching teams and planning viewing parties. 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.”

Is the tournament’s impact on workplace productivity much ado about nothing?  Not according to a new survey from Modis, a provider of information technology staffing, which found sufficient enough concern among 34 percent of IT professionals to play offense, either banning March Madness video, throttling video feeds, or simply blocking content altogether. Nearly half (48 percent) say their companies takes action to block, throttle or ban the streaming of all non-work related content in the workplace.

(These restrictions, Modis found, do not apply to all workers: Two-thirds of those surveyed indicated they would make an exception for the head of the company and 52 percent would do the same for senior employees).

Playing defense, three-fourths of the respondents to another survey of more than 1,000 office managers conducted by staffing service OfficeTeam said that March Madness will have no impact on office morale or productivity. One five percent said that tournament-related activities in the workplace had a very positive impact on morale and productivity.

"It's often better 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," said OfficeTeam executive director Robert Hosking in a statement. "Employees need a chance to bond with coworkers over shared interests. Group activities -- whether based on the NCAA basketball tournament or other events -- provide a channel for team building."

About the Author

Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.  

A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.