For those of you who love college basketball, early spring is a special time of year.  Why?  It marks the heart of March Madness.  College basketball fans everywhere love it for the nail-biting finishes, the Cinderella stories, and the thrill of pulling for their teams.  People love it for the brackets.  Television networks love it for the ratings.  Employers?  Well, let’s just say that it makes some want to call for a shot-clock violation.

Although it’s hard to measure the exact impact that March Madness has on workplace productivity, in early March 2010, outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. published an article in which it estimated that “March Madness [in 2010] could cost employers as much as $1.8 billion in unproductive wages during the first week of the tournament. . . .” http://challengeratworkblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/march-madness-report-tourney-could-cost.html.

Setting aside for a moment whether that estimate is accurate, March Madness clearly has some impact on workplace productivity.  Generally speaking, employees will fill out brackets, work out the details of the office pool, talk about the games, take long lunches to watch games, stream video of games, or otherwise tune in from the office.

So, how does an employer deal with it all?  Should it embrace the madness in the name of office camaraderie?  Should it block all such activities in the name of productivity?  Or should it seek middle ground, choosing to let tournament-basketball fever run its course but limiting employees’ avenues for enjoyment of the games, e.g., limiting access to certain internet sites, to televisions, etc.?

In short, there’s no right answer.  Each employer should adopt its own approach based upon its work environment.  With that said, however, here are some things employer should keep in mind in making their decision:

  • Be consistent with your workplace policies. For instance, if you’ve already adopted an approach with regard to your tolerance level for fantasy sports, then you should consider adopting a consistent approach with regard to your tolerance level for March Madness and all of the little things that go with it.
  • If you have policies that address internet usage at work, break times, etc., be prepared to enforce those policies. If you’re not willing to enforce your policies, or if you only selectively enforce them, then you could be doing more harm than good by having the policies in place.
  • Keep gambling out of the workplace. Although participating in an office pool can be one of the more enjoyable aspects of March Madness, you certainly don’t want your company to condone, or be perceived as condoning, gambling in the workplace.  As a practical matter, yes, it happens.  But provided that you’re willing to tolerate at least a little dose of March Madness in the workplace, try to think of ways in which your employees can have fun with the games without the wagering.  For instance, consider setting up a pool in which each of your employees has the opportunity to submit a bracket and, rather than allowing money to change hands, offer prizes for those who finish at the top of the pool.

Love it or hate it, March Madness is coming.  Employers concerned about the impact of such festivities are well-served to start thinking now about how they may want to deal with it when it does.

Matt Hansberry focuses his practice in the areas of employment litigation and ski-industry defense. Mr. Hansberry has defended companies and management in both federal court and state court cases. He has also defended employers before the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.
» See more articles by Matthew B. Hansberry
» Read the full biography of Matthew B. Hansberry at Steptoe & Johnson

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