Why March Madness makes sense for employers

Challenger, Grey & Christmas, an executive outplacement service, estimates that companies will lose $1.2 billion in lost worker productivity because of the annual NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. That's a claim some experts say is inflated and others dismiss as irrelevant.

In fact, the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) notes that many companies believe NCAA office pools are a good thing. Most (81 percent) don't have policies trying to regulate them, and 70 percent of employers said in a recent survey that March Madness had a positive impact on relationship-building. Another 64 percent argued that following the tournament promoted team-building, while 54 percent said it promoted employee engagement.

Research by Duke University Professor Charles Clotfelter failed to find any significant impact on worker productivity from March Madness, and a separate survey by Office Team found only 11 percent of managers had a negative view of the tournament, with 62 percent saying it had no impact, according to The Washington Post. Employers shouldn't bother getting "mad" about March Madness, The Post argues.

"But here's the thing: Many of the people taking time to fill out their office bracket or surreptitiously catch the last two minutes of a game while at work are also answering e-mail while they sit on their couches at home," writes The Washington Post's Jena McGregor. "Worrying about how much productivity is lost a few weeks every spring ignores how much productivity is gained when employees do work while watching sports at home the rest of the year."

Among the companies that are embracing the "madness" is Regus, a provider of office space used by multiple clients. The TVs in the lounges of its 800 locations in the U.S., which are usually locked on a news channel, will instead be tuned into the games. Plenty of workers will be watching the teams compete while keeping a close eye on their smartphones or tablets in case they need to do actual work.

"We know that people aren't going to pay attention as much to their work as they should be," said Grant Greenberg, a company spokesman, adding that many workers get into the spirit of the event. "I am sure there is some trash talking going on, all in good fun of course."

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.