Can March Madness Be Used to Boost Employee Morale?

March Madness court with celebration

March Madness celebration | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Content provided by Barnaby Lashbrooke, CEO, Time etc

March Madness is upon us and companies are prepping for the inevitable distractions in the workplace that come with dedicated game-watching and bracket competitions. Many speculate that embracing March Madness at work can mean a drop in productivity for employees and even research showed that employers could lose up to $1.9 billion in wages as a result. What’s less commonly discussed is how this social activity can in fact be a good opportunity to boost employee morale, and even in some cases, improve productivity. There are always two sides to every story, especially when it comes to allowing friendly competition and social activities at work.

All work, and no play, is madness

With all of the commotion and distractions that can arise with March Madness throughout the work day – filling out brackets, social media updates, watching the actual games on TV – it’s only natural for companies to be concerned about how much work employees are actually getting done. As the competition thickens, employees become even more engaged with watching the tournament and keeping track of where they’re placing in their competitive bracket.

From this perspective, ignoring sporting events and social activities that take place during normal business hours is the responsible business decision to make. It seems logical that companies will not be generating profit if their employees are glued to a computer or TV screen engaging in non-work related activities. Understandable, especially when looking at recent research conducted by Time etc surveying American employees, which found that nearly half of respondents (43%) do not finish their daily to-do list. It can appear that employees don’t need an excuse for another distraction from their work.

Although March Madness can be seen as a distraction at the office, all work and no play can in fact do more harm than good in the workplace. Taking small breaks from work throughout the day, and engaging with co-workers on more personal levels, can help us be more productive in the workplace and lead to a better office environment overall.

It’s worth considering what work-related benefits can come from allowing employees to get involved with March Madness and engage with each other on something other than project assignments or meeting agendas.

Friendly competition and healthy working relationships

Though participating in March Madness during business hours can present distractions, it does also present an opportunity to boost morale and employee engagement. By allowing employees to compete with each other in March Madness brackets, an inevitable bond is built between professionals, leading to better working relationships and office environment overall.

The people we work with and the environment in which we work and spend many hours of our lives are important factors to our happiness and quality of our work. Striking friendships with co-workers and developing healthy working relationships is key to developing a better work/life balance. By allowing employees to engage in these types of social activities, employers are not only making work more fun, but in turn developing a more engaged workforce for the long term.

“Managing the madness” during business hours

Though the benefits of engaging in March Madness in the workplace are abundant for employee morale, the question may be asked how do managers allow employees to watch basketball games during business hours without sacrificing quality of work and productivity.

The best way for managers to go about solving this dilemma isn’t to choose one side or the other, but rather to work with employees on a compromise. Allowing small breaks throughout the work day to engage in March Madness, organizing “watching parties” during appropriate times and even planning after-work outings can help keep everything under control. By doing so, companies can help increase employees’ focus, improve attitudes and boost morale. As a result, this leads to better quality work produced by providing a healthy work/life balance.

Employers who reason March Madness activities should be banned tend to be concerned about distractions from work and wasted time. But the reality is in today’s world, distractions are everywhere. So we may as well allow this “distraction” March Madness presents in a controlled manner, so that at least it’s helping employees become more engaged and the company more profitable.

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