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Build Your Career Office Life

Could March Madness Boost Employee Morale in the Office?

Could March Madness Boost Employee Morale in the Office?
Credit: Al Sermano Photography/Shutterstock

With March Madness set to tip off this week, most organizations will likely see a drop in productivity as some employees focus more on their tournament brackets than their work.

However, while productivity is sure to drop, not all will be lost as workers shift their attention for a few afternoons from their daily tasks to the office pool. A study from the HR services and staffing firm Randstad US revealed that nearly 90 percent of employees believe office pools help build better team camaraderie, with 84 percent think being able to participate in office pools with their co-workers makes their job more enjoyable.

"While many employers fear a loss of productivity due to the distraction of office pools during the college basketball tournament season, our findings suggest the potential short-term distraction in the office may actually be a win for employee morale, engagement and satisfaction in the long term," Jim Link, chief human resource officer at Randstad North America, said in statement. "Given the heightened competition for talent and the need for organizations to improve employee engagement and collaboration, our study indicates the significance of socially connecting with peers to foster deeper connections and boost employee morale."

Overall, the global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts that 23.7 million employees will fill out brackets for this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament. Based on 2012 data that found that 86 percent of workers planned to devote at least part of their workday to updating brackets, checking scores and following games during the tournament, Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that the lost hours of work could cost employers more than $2 billion.

"These estimates, of course, do not take into account every situation, but the fact remains that this national pastime, much of which occurs during work hours, will distract employees to some extent," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

While some employees will watch with a passing interest, others will have their competitive juices at full capacity. A study from the staffing firm OfficeTeam found that being a poor sport or overly competitive and spending too much time talking about sports were the most distracting or annoying co-worker behaviors this time of year. [See Related Story: Improve Productivity and Morale by Igniting Employee Passions]

To help employees, OfficeTeam has identified four types of co-workers they might encounter during this year's college basketball tournament and tips for dealing with them:

  1. The Rookie: This employee doesn't realize that although they will be allowed to follow along with what's happening in the games, it isn't an excuse to forget all rules of office decorum. They show up to work wearing jerseys and sporting some of their favorite team's paraphernalia. Before they make a complete fool of themselves, it is best to encourage these rookies to brush up on company policies so they know what is and isn't acceptable.
  2. The Commentator: These employees waste the entire day talking about the games. While it is OK to chat with colleagues about the tournament during a break or over lunch, don't let the conversation negatively impact your work.
  3. The Poor Sport: These workers take the games way too seriously and can be a jerk to those who aren't rooting for their favorite teams. It is important to remind these fanatics that it's just a game and to make sure their friendly banter doesn't cross the line.
  4. The Benchwarmer: These employees don't follow college basketball and couldn’t care less about the Big Dance. However, just because they aren't overly interested doesn't mean they don't want to feel like part of the team when activities or office pools are being planned. Be sure to make a friendly environment where everyone, even non-sports fans, are encouraged to participate.

In the end, Virginia Tech University associate professor William Becker believes there is little harm in letting employees enjoy the tournament, to an extent, during the workday.

"It really only is a big conflict the first Thursday and Friday when games are occurring during the day," Becker said in a statement. "I think the biggest danger is taking a draconian approach that sends a message that the organization and its leaders only care about profits and see employees as cogs."

Becker said March Madness offers a great opportunity for company leaders to connect more with their employees.

"I think anything that makes employees identify more with the organization will pay huge dividends in the long run and far outweigh short-term losses in productivity," Becker said.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.