Brackets. The term will dominate discussions at home, in the local watering hole and at the office for the next few weeks as attention turns to the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. The American Gaming Association estimated last year that 40 million Americans would fill out more than 70 million brackets and wager more than $9 billion on the tournament. So what does that mean for productivity? And how do employers view the NCAA tournament?
The answers might not conform to what most would think. Even organizations that make productivity their business don’t see the basketball tournament as something to police.
A POSITIVE FACTOR FOR MORALE AND PRODUCTIVITY
Ashley White, executive director of human resources for Houston-based APQC, which says it helps companies work smarter, faster, and with greater confidence, says the basketball tournament and other major events aren’t negative factors. “We don’t try to avoid events like NCAA tournament, the World Cup, or any other major newsworthy event,” White says.
Part of the reasoning, White says, is just accepting reality. “Employees are either going to watch it live at their desks, or we can turn it into an employee engagement opportunity that breeds goodwill and connectedness in the process.”
That leads to improved morale, which is something that many companies strive for at a time when research finds employees easy to lose and hard to hire.
APQC even goes the extra mile to entice participation. “Our idea is to have fun with it, such as by creating a betting pool,” she says, noting that the engagement doesn’t stop with the college hoops event. “We also do this with Fantasy Football. So, our view is that it is not nearly the distraction that you might think it would be.”
APQC isn’t alone in embracing the event. Staffing firm Office Team found only about 14 percent of senior managers it polled last year felt that the tournament had a negative effect on productivity. About 63 percent felt activities surrounding March Madness had no effect on productivity, while 22 percent viewed it positively.
Brandi Britton, district president of Office Team, believes employees who discuss the tournament and root for their schools, can bond with fellow workers over the experience. “The line between work and personal time has become more blurred. Many organizations realize that good employees will still make sure their work gets done, even if they do take a few minutes here and there to check scores or chat with coworkers.”
WHY COMPANIES ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION IN SPORTS EVENTS
Other Office Team research shows about one in four managers say their companies organize workplace activities for big sporting events. Britton says many employers may even encourage employees to participate. “To get in the spirit, let staff wear their favorite teams’ apparel or decorate their workspaces, within reason. Companies can also consider organizing friendly competitions or informal lunches so coworkers can watch big games together.”
The team’s research found managers believe the following to be the benefits of organizing activities:
- 39 percent say it shows the company supports a healthy mix of work and play.
- 37 percent say it fosters togetherness among coworkers.
- 25 percent say it provides a distraction from the daily grind.
Angel Santos, a business strategist and productivity coach at Grow My Brand, also encourages employees to follow the tournament and uses the event as part of its business tactics. “We incorporate it our contests and theme our goals March Madness for the month,” Santos says.
NOT EVERYONE IS A FAN
About 66 percent of employees, according to the Office Team research, feel workplace activities to celebrate major sporting events have a positive impact on employee happiness. But it is important to note that the approval isn’t universal, with about 27% of workers surveyed by Office Team saying they would prefer not to have sports-related activities at their job sites.
The most distracting or annoying coworker behaviors, according to Office Team’s survey:
- Being a poor sport or overly competitive, cited by 30 percent.
- Spending too much time talking sports (26 percent). Many employees feel the same way about political discussions.
- Calling in sick/making an excuse for skipping work the day after a major event (22 percent).
- Showing up the day after tired or under the weather (8 percent).
- Overdoing team decorations or attire (8 percent).
Britton says it’s important to set boundaries for office behavior during the tournament:
- Clearly communicate policies so professionals know what’s acceptable when it comes to things like employee breaks and Internet use during sporting events.
- Set a good example by showing how to participate in tournament festivities without getting sidetracked from responsibilities. If you complete assignments before talking hoops, employees will likely follow suit.
- If team members want to take time off to watch the playoffs, ask them to submit requests as far in advance as possible. This will help you manage workloads and determine if interim assistance is needed to keep projects on track.