5 March Madness Do’s and Don’ts Around the Office

basketball on court

Distracted employees may cost employers nearly $4 billion during this year’s NCAA tournament. | Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

You might be amped for this year’s NCAA tournament, but your boss might be dreading it. Distracted workers could cost employers billions of dollars in lost productivity during this year’s March Madness, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The global outplacement consultancy estimates that up to 20% of Americans workers, or 50.5 million people, will participate in March Madness office pools. Assuming the average person spends three hours filling out their bracket and watching games during work hours, companies will pay out about $3.9 billion to unproductive workers during the first week of the NCAA tournament. Managers, for their part, are now less likely to say that participating in March Madness activities at the office has a positive effect on employee morale or productivity than they were a year ago, a survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam found.

Despite the cost to employers, many fans aren’t going to be willing to wait until after 5 p.m. to get their college hoops fix. But if you are going to be following the tournament, you should take care to let it not interfere with your work. Keep these five do’s and don’ts in mind when celebrating March Madness on the job.

1. Don’t: Play hooky from work

Deciding at the last minute you’d rather watch the game at the local bar than sneak a peek at the score from your desk is a no-no. If you suspect you’re going to want to miss work, try to let your boss know ahead of time so he or she can prepare.

“If you’re a die-hard sports fan, your boss will probably appreciate you taking time off to watch tournament games instead of potentially getting distracted on the job,” Brandi Britton, district president for OfficeTeam said. “The issues often lie in skipping work at the last minute or calling in sick because you’re watching a game or partaking in March Madness festivities.”

Instead of no-showing in the office, request a personal day (or days) in advance so you can watch daytime games guilt-free. Or you could try a slightly more extreme technique. Doctors have reported increases in the number of men scheduling vasectomies in the days before the NCAA tournament, so they can spend their recovery time watching basketball.

2. Do: Follow your company’s policies

man looking at phone and tablet

Don’t pay more attention to checking the scores than completing your work | Source: iStock

Every company has a different approach to managing March Madness. At some workplaces, it may be acceptable to show up in a team jersey, spend your lunch break watching games, or work a flexible schedule so you can leave early. Other companies might be less accommodating. In either case, follow your boss’s lead for what is and isn’t OK.

“Managers should clearly communicate policies so employees know what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to March Madness,” Britton said.

If your company doesn’t have a clear policy on March Madness activities, encourage your boss to embrace a few fun activities. Injecting some spirit into the office can be a good way to boost employee morale. “Start a company-wide office pool that is free to enter and offers a free lunch or gift card for the winner,” Andrew M. Challenger, Challenger Gray’s vice president of global outplacement, said. “Employers may even want to consider setting up a television in a break room or conference room, so employees can check scores.”

3. Don’t: Spend the entire day glued to your phone

Occasionally checking the scores on your phone is fine, but spending the entire day staring at a tiny screen instead of doing work is not going to win you any points with your boss. Remember, your primary responsibility is still your job.

“Always find out your organization’s guidelines regarding things like breaks and Internet usage,” Britton said. “During meetings, don’t pay more attention to checking scores than the discussion at hand.”

If you must watch games during business hours, find a way to make up that lost time. “Workers who participate in March Madness activities will still likely get their assignments completed,” Britton said. “They’ll just compensate for time spent on non-work tasks by shifting their hours or staying late.”

4. Do: Engage in friendly rivalry

ncaa trophy

Keep sports rivalries friendly in the office. | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

So you love North Carolina and your co-worker is a die-hard Duke fan? You may not see eye-to-eye, but don’t let what should be a friendly rivalry turn hostile. “It’s OK to demonstrate passion for a specific team, but don’t bad-mouth anyone else in the process,” career expert Vicki Salemi explained in an article for U.S. News & World Report. Still, a little gentle ribbing is a sign of a strong office culture, provided it doesn’t get out of hand.

“It’s a sign of a healthy workplace when people are having a good time with sports rivalries,” Dr. Lee Igel, an associate professor at New York University’s Tisch Institute and a co-director of NYU’s program on Sports and Society, told CBS News.

5. Don’t: Miss out on the fun

A big event like March Madness can be fun even for non-sports fans. Rather than grumbling about your distracted co-workers, get in the spirit. Joining your office pool or getting together with colleagues to watch the game can be a positive experience, even if you don’t really care about college basketball.

“Even if you’re not rooting on a particular team, don’t be a Debbie Downer,” Britton said. “Be a good sport by participating in office March Madness activities. It’ll allow you to take a quick break from work and build rapport with colleagues.”

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