It’s everyone’s – well a lot of people’s – favorite time of year: March Madness is upon us. With the parity in the NCAA this year, the title of college basketball champion is on the line; people are furiously filling out their brackets and with games streaming online, it’s a no-brainer that people will be keeping up with their favorite teams.
With all this excitement, though, comes the inevitable backlash from managers of workers whose productivity allegedly plummets during the tournament. According to some estimates, businesses in the U.S. lose anywhere from $100 million to $4 billion in lost productivity during the NCAA tournament every year. Is it true? Does college basketball turn our workforce into a bunch of basketball-obsessed, unproductive ne’re-do-wells? Let’s examine the evidence.
According to Chris Mason, an attorney in Valley, Arizona, there is an inevitable loss in productivity each year during the three week long tournament. “Every time they’re passing from one work area to another, they may stop and have communications or Internet access to see how their team is doing,” Mason said of his employees. Likening it to a medical condition, Mason said he finds many suffer from “March Madness Bracketology Syndrome” during the tournament. “They go online, they use their work computers, they’ve got PDA devices that they’re checking in the restrooms and the hallways,” Mason affirmed.
Moreover, outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said Wednesday that online streaming of games, coupled with obsessive bracket-checking and television watching could result in about 8.4 million hours of lost work; multiply that figure by the $22.87 average hourly earning rate of private-sector workers and the financial impact comes out to $192 million.
However, John Challenger, the chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said worker productivity fears are overblown every year. “At first glance, 8.4 million hours of lost productivity seems like it would deliver a crushing blow to the economy,”
Challenger told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Over the three weeks of the tournament, the nation’s 108 million workers will have logged more than 11 billion hours of work. The 8.4 million hours lost to March Madness is a relative drop in the bucket, accounting for less than one-tenth of one percent of the total hours American workers will put in over the three weeks of the tournament.”
Still, with 58 million Americans participating in some sort of college hoops bracket pool in 2010, there is definitely increased interest and attention paid to college basketball during the last few weeks of March. One way the tournament could result in reduced productivity this year is through the online streaming of games. According to IT Business Edge, in an office with fewer than 100 workers, even just five or 10 people streaming basketball games “will definitely have an impact on everyone else’s Internet speed.”
Some analysts, though, contend that the NCAA tournament provides the perfect opportunity to build up worker morale. In 2010, a survey of 1,000 office managers found that 41 percent said that March Madness increased employee happiness, with 56 percent reporting March Madness had no effect on worker productivity. Only 20 percent of respondents said they thought worker productivity dropped during the tournament.
Echoing that positive sentiment, Don Forsyth, a professor at the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies, is an expert in group dynamics and has extensively studied the effect of March Madness on Americans in the workplace. Forsyth asserts that while employees could be less productive for a few days, there are plenty of benefits that arise from the seemingly endless schedule of games.
“It can draw people together,” Forsyth affirmed. “You’re able to use those moments to build valuable interpersonal relationships.” It may also be a time to connect with fellow employees whom you share the share Alma mater with or a favorite team. Ultimately, March Madness may result in reduced productivity in the short-term, but it happens only once a year so why not enjoy it?