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Dealing with popular sporting events in the workplace

March 15, 2018

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

The highly televised Olympic games just ended and over the course of 2½ weeks in February, NBC live streamed all 1,800 plus hours of the winter games.  For employers, this provided plenty of distractions as employees often diverted their attention to track their favorite sports and athletes.  Now that the calendar has flipped to March, employers should be prepared for the next productivity drain – the March Madness NCAA college basketball tournament.
March Madness kicked off this week on March 13th, with the championship game scheduled for April 2.  According to a new survey from OfficeTeam, a typical employee will spend up to six paid hours focusing on sports-related activities during the tournament.  On average, workers will spend 25.5 minutes per day monitoring the games—with checking game scores and team rankings being the most popular distractions. Water cooler chatter about the games is a close second.
The survey also shows:

  • Male employees and those ages 18 to 34 spend the most time on tournament-related activities at work (36 minutes and 34 minutes on average a day, respectively), such as talking to colleagues and participating in informal competitions.
  • Nearly half of professionals (46%) are big fans of celebrating sporting events like March Madness in the office. Another third (33%) aren’t very fond of these activities but still play along. More than one in five respondents (21%) would rather focus on work and not celebrate sports.
  • Men (64%) and employees ages 18 to 34 (55%) most frequently said they love keeping up with sports in the office and bonding with colleagues over them.
  • Checking game scores and team rankings (62%) and an increase in sports talk (59%) are the most common workplace behaviors around major sporting attractions, according to senior managers.

Human Resource professionals can expect to receive the usual calls from managers concerned about lost productivity, employee-organized betting pools, and slow Internet due to the games being watched during work hours. So, what is the NCAA tournament to employers—a cost due to lost productivity? Or a chance to build engagement and morale?
Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., has researched the impact of March Madness to employers. In 2016 it estimated that workers distracted by the tournament could cost employers as much $4 billion in the opening week of the annual men’s college basketball tournament.  As the tournament moves into its second and third weeks, more teams are eliminated and thus less employee time is lost to its distractions. It is the first week of the tournament that is most costly. 
Workers will also have more access than ever to March Madness games. The NCAA will live stream all 67 March Madness games on its March Madness Live product across 16 platforms.  The platforms include iOS devices, Apple TV, Android phones and tablets, Amazon Echo devices, Amazon Fire tablets, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream, Roku, and Xbox One. Also supported are mobile web, desktop web, AirPlay, and Chromecast.
Some employers have responded to this issue by working with their IT departments to block, ban, or slow down the ability of employees to stream the games over the Internet. Many employers use the event as a time to promote employee morale by showing the games in conference rooms and allowing employees to periodically take breaks to check the score and watch the game. It can be a great way to blow off steam and create fun rivalries.  Other fun morale builders can include encouraging employees to decorate their offices/cubes in team memorabilia or come wearing their favorite team jersey to work. 
The blurring of lines between work and home is another reason that employers, in fairness, should not be as concerned if there are periodic dips in productivity.  Many employees have the ability to work remotely, and they will finish tasks at home that they didn’t get done in the office.   
John A. Challenger, CEO at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., said in a post on the topic last year, “Employers should embrace March Madness and seek ways to use it as a tool to foster camaraderie.  By installing a TV in a common area or lunchroom, workers can check games throughout the day. This option has an added benefit of eliminating the need for workers to stream games, lightening the burden for your IT staff,” he said. “Consider giving employees longer lunches or offering longer breaks at other times throughout the day to allow them to catch games that interest them.”
Regardless of whether employers support or prohibit March Madness activities, they should have policies in place prior to the start of the tournament detailing ground rules around streaming the games over the Internet, increased requests for time off, and the impact to office productivity.

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