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Managing the (March) Madness at Work

Date: 3.12.2012

The workplace will soon be abuzz with “March Madness,” with 68 men’s teams and 64 women’s teams, the elite of college basketball, competing for the national championship.  This national event creates a number of unique challenges in the workplace.  Loss of productivity due to employee use of social media and the Internet is one, and while such tournament-based reports of lost productivity (e.g., those of Challenger, Gray & Christmas) have been debated, it is undisputed that roughly half of the men’s NCAA tournament is played during normal working hours and that employees will want to watch the games or at least check the scores.  CBS has even devised a “Boss Button,” concealing the webcast of the tournament behind a “spreadsheet.”  It is estimated that the “Boss Button” was clicked approximately 3.3 million times during the 2010 NCAA Tournament.  In fact, MSN reported that 86 percent of respondents to its early-2012 survey said they plan to devote at least some part of their working day to following the tournament.  This is up 5 percent over 2011.

“March Madness” provides an opportunity to consider the following in your workplace:

  • Only a handful of states (i.e., Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana), allow legal sports betting.  In the rest, sports betting is illegal, and companies should remind employees about their rules and policies against workplace gambling and solicitation.  If an employer allows employees to engage in “bracketology,” any prize awarded should be non-monetary, such as tickets to a complimentary round of golf, a gift card, or another event, without a monetary buy-in.  Likewise, even participation in a non-monetary pool should be consistent with the company’s policies on non-solicitation.
  • Review company policies on computer usage.  Consider ways to build camaraderie, morale and a controlled outlet for employees to check out the action intermittently during the workday.  The efficacy of company rules prohibiting the use of the company equipment for non-work purposes may need to be analyzed despite the strong justifications for such rules.  A frequent lament of employers is that “March Madness” exacts a significant toll on their computer infrastructure and technology systems, given that instantaneous downloading and streaming of games is available from virtually everyone’s work computer and PDA.  To address this, companies might designate a “tournament break room” with a television in a conference center, cafeteria or other office area. This may help control the environment, and, more critically, reduce the drain on the company’s IT system.

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Employers at a minimum should consider the impact of the tournaments on operations and consider ways to use “March Madness” to boost morale, while seeking to minimize the loss of productivity and improper use of company technology and equipment.