March is the Month for Workplace Madness

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The annual NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship tournament, affectionately known as March Madness, kicks off in less than two weeks and companies around the country know what that means: a strain on worker productivity.

In its annual “study,” that gives legitimate scientific studies a bad name, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.  predicts that while March Madness will not be the downfall of the American economy, it could result in millions of hours in lost productivity, or at least diminished productivity, as workers across the nation take time from their work schedules to watch games online, check scores and manage their office pool brackets.

March Madness begins March 13.

Based on last year’s data, online March Madness coverage could attract more than 2.5 million unique visitors per day, each spending an average of 90 minutes watching games. With private-sector workers earning an average of $23.29 per hour, Challenger estimates that employers will end up paying distracted workers about $175 million over the first two full days of the tournament.

“Statisticians, economists, academia and college basketball fans will likely scoff at that estimate, and rightfully so. Ultimately, March Madness will not even register a blip on the nation’s economic radar and even the smallest company will survive the month without any impact on their bottom line,” said John A. Challenger, Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO. “That is not to say there is absolutely no impact. It is felt at the micro level.”

For example, the company’s Internet speeds may be slower, some workers will not respond to emails as promptly, and lunch breaks may extend beyond the usual time limits. It’s mostly a headache-inducing annoyance for information technology departments, human resources and department managers.

“It’s an opportunity to remind workers that practicing some moderation in their March Madness viewing will go a long way toward keeping managers off their back. Meanwhile, it is equally important for employers to cut workers some slack, particularly in an economy that has left many workplaces understaffed and overworked,” Challenger said.

A survey just released by MSN indicates that 86% of employees said they plan to devote at least some time during their work day to follow games—a 5% increase from last year (81%).

A more detailed breakdown finds that 11% say they will do the same for at least five hours and 6% say they take the first two days off!

Luckily for these determined basketball fans, there are more choices than ever when it comes to watching tournament games.  Last month, Turner Sports, CBS Sports and the NCAA announced that NCAA® March Madness® Live, formerly March Madness on Demand, will provide college basketball fans with more opportunities to watch games across multiple devices.  For the first time, mobile devices sporting the Android operating system will have access to the games, which should help boost viewership from last year’s record-breaking levels.

According to statistics released shortly after last year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, March Madness on Demand (as it was still known, at the time) saw a 47% increase in total visits during the first three rounds, reaching a whopping 26.7 million visits, during which a total of 10.3 million hours of streaming video was consumed.

Other statistics revealed that there was an average of 2.4 million daily unique visitors on broadband and 702,000 average daily unique users through mobile apps during the second and third round of 2011 tournament.  Each of these users spent an average of 92.9 minutes per day streaming live video.

This year, the tournament begins on March 13 and 14, when four play-in games will determine the final entrants to the field of 64 teams that will kick off second-round games on Thursday, March 15 and Friday, March 16.

Before those games start, workers are likely to be distracted by filling in their brackets for the ubiquitous March Madness office pools. In the MSN survey, 31% of respondents said they planned to enter at least two betting pools and 58% still plan to enter at least one pool.

So, what is an employer to do?  Challenger suggests: “Rather than try to squash employee interest in March Madness, companies could embrace it as a way to build morale and camaraderie.”

The United States Sports Academy requires students at all three degree levels to take a course on contemporary sports in modern society.  For more information on these courses and the degree programs offered by the Academy go to http://ussa.edu.