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March Madness & Employee Morale: A Winning Combination
March Madness & Employee Morale: A Winning Combination

Selection Sunday has passed, the brackets are set and employers across the US find themselves once again on the eve of March Madness. Businesses are faced with the issue of whether to embrace the “madness” or to strictly enforce office policies, which likely prohibit distractions such as streaming basketball games and participating in bracket pools. While numerous studies indicate that employee productivity is at record lows this Thursday & Friday, there are great benefits to be had if handled correctly.

Employees now have numerous options for streaming the game, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for employers to prohibit game viewing. Gone are the days when games were only available on television; now employees can stream live games online. While an employer can block access to certain websites to prevent employees from streaming games on their work computers, it is not feasible or practical to preclude employees from viewing games (starting at 12 p.m. on the East Coast) or checking scores on their phones or tablets. The distractions inevitably occur prior to Thursday’s games, with employees discussing matchups and a team’s road to the Final Four, whereas others spend hours researching teams and filling out their brackets, all while at work. So what should a business do?

Consider embracing March Madness. By addressing it head-on, employers can turn an inevitable drain on productivity into a positive event for company morale and employee engagement. Employers can have events centered on the games, set up game viewing areas, consider providing lunch and have a (free to enter) office pool. Such events encourage interaction among employees who might typically not work together. Having the games on in a break area can also decrease the overall drain on the network from streaming. A company can also consider allowing employees to wear their team’s colors and have contests for the employee with the best team spirit.

Employers must be careful not to create an environment where those not engaging in the activities feel ostracized. No one should feel compelled to enter into an office pool or that participation would have an impact on their annual review, as such feelings can result in a later claim of discrimination. Employers should consider whether it’s worth the potential risk before running an office pool. If you are going to have an office pool, consider keeping it free or, at a minimum, keep the entry amount low in order to avoid later legal issues since such pools are illegal in most states. Last, but not least, ensure that any competition is friendly and that no one takes it so seriously that there are any heightened tensions.

So while a company can legally take steps to enforce its policies and prohibit the invasion of March Madness in the workplace, practically, it will be a nightmare to police. This is a unique opportunity for employers to create a team building event and the potential upside to embracing it is huge.

Image courtesy of Hakan Dahlstrom