March Madness is back again at a workplace near you and maybe even at your own. With 28 Canadians participating in this years’ tournament, public interest on this side of the border will continue to be high. In Atlantic Canada, we will all be cheering for Dartmouth’s Rodell Wigginton of the Buffalo Bulls hot off the Mid-American Conference Championship.

On Tuesday, Lee Igel of Forbes wrote Stop The Insanity About NCAA March Madness Ruining Workplace Productivity in which he reported that while March Madness (according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas) “amounts to $1.9 billion in lost wages to employees who are so distracted by the tournament that they become unproductive… the report also suggests that attention to the tournament is so widespread and intense that it isn’t worth trying to stop”. He went on to state:

Managers shouldn’t fear employees engaging with co-workers around a three week-long basketball tournament, so long as everyone is accomplishing the work that is expected of them. The challenge, then, is having to figure out where to draw the line when it comes to indulging in March Madness at the office. Quashing or banning it sends a message that the workplace is no place to have a little fun, which is no way to make people productive”.

The report, indeed, recommends against employers banning workplace pools and blocking access to streaming sites stating:

This tournament and the betting and bracket-building that come with it are ingrained in the national fabric. Trying to stop it would be like trying to stop a freight train. When even the president finds time to fill out a bracket, an employer would be hard pressed to come up with a legitimate reason to clamp down on March Madness activities…

Last year in the Washington Post, Don’t worry about the March Madness productivity loss too much, Jena McGregor’s bottom line was:

But here’s the thing: Many 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. 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.

So let’s cool it a little on the March Madness productivity panic. The intertwining of our professional and personal lives is not really news. And it’s not going to change anytime soon.”

Some workplaces latch onto the so-called “benefit” of allowing employees to participate in March Madness activities in the name of increased employee morale. According to a survey of 1000 managers conducted by OfficeTeam in California, one in five (20 per cent) of those surveyed felt activities tied to the college basketball playoffs improve employee morale at least somewhat, compared to only four per cent of respondents who viewed them negatively. The majority (75 per cent) said March Madness events have no impact on morale or productivity.  Some companies allow staff to wear their favorite teams’ apparel or decorate their workspaces (within reason) to get in the spirit. Hopefully your workplace is not filled with Badger fans.

Whether March Madness is an issue or not at your workplace is something only you know given your particular workplace and employees. Regardless of whether it’s really much ado about nothing or whether you intend to increase employee morale, March Madness is a good time to review your workplace rules so that everyone knows what’s expected including the following policies:

  • Appropriate computer and internet use
  • Attendance
  • Workplace solicitation
  • Gambling
  • Harassment

While there may also be other relevant policies, these five seem to be the ones most vulnerable to March Madness breaches. While I may be justifying my own time on the internet over the past few days, there is ALWAYS room for fun in the workplace. Putting an unwieldy damper on an opportunity that could increase employee morale should always be well thought out beforehand. Look for, and explore, opportunities and solutions that are appropriate for your workplace before taking too restrictive an approach to March Madness.

Good luck with your brackets, live streaming and evading IT block attempts!