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Does March Madness Really Hurt Employee Productivity?

Get your brackets ready because it's time for March Madness, the most wonderful time of the year!

For business journalists, it's time for the annual March-Madness-is-going-to-drain-employee-productivity story. I'm sure you've seen the calculations if you read the business section. Between the brackets, the games and the team trash talk, employers can expect to lose a startling $192 million in employee productivity this month. $192 million!

Message: Let employees track their brackets, and the next thing management knows it'll be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Journalists have taken this meme to the net and a lot of managers buy into it. A new OfficeTeam survey finds nearly one-third (32%) of managers think the NCAA Tournament shouldn't be allowed in the workplace. Only 11% welcome tournament time, while 57% say a little bit of hoops obsession is okay.

Are the tournament-hating managers running the right play, though? Whenever I see the March Madness productivity loss figure I remember a March 2009 Slate article that reveals how it's calculated. The article goes on to blow the whole price tag argument out of the water, kind of like Virginia Tech beating Duke. Whoomp, there it is!

It's revealing that only one in five employees in the new OfficeTeam survey gets distracted by the excitement of the competition. So there is some level of distraction come NCAA Tournament time, but maybe it's not the dire productivity buster we've been lead to believe year after year. I'm willing to put money on this "one in five" person being the guy (it's usually a guy) who obsesses about sports all year round. You know, the guy who can spout batting averages going back to 1952 and wears the sweaty baseball cap with his college alma mater's logo on it. He plays hoops with his buddies after work and stays home on Saturday afternoons to watch The Game. His girlfriend is always mad at him. This guy is sleeping, eating and breathing sports whether or not there's an NCAA Tournament to watch.

I'll let the OfficeTeam survey sink this one from behind the three-point line: 36% of the men surveyed admit to being distracted on the job by outside sporting events compared to only 6% of the women.

By the way, why don't we ever see a figure that shows the effect of the NCAA Tournament on April and May employee productivity and morale levels? Maybe there's a positive after effect that has yet to be measured. And why don't we see similar productivity loss numbers around Oscar time (there's a week's worth of pre-game build-up and post-game analysis for many women), during the NBA playoff season (which seems to take up half the year) or at Christmas? The answer is that no one releases a reliable productivity loss statistic around these events for harried business journalists to write about, but one is calculated every year for the NCAA Tournament. It's an easy story.

When it comes down to it, the NCAA Tournament is a bit of harmless fun. With stress levels so high, letting employees run a bracket pool, jokingly trash their co-worker's favorite teams and root for the 16th seed underdog (beat Duke!) is a cheap, easy way to bring a little more happiness and excitement into the office. Managers should look at March Madness as a good thing, and as a way to learn a little more about the people who work for them.

Besides, it's the most wonderful time of the year, isn't it? And it only comes once a year, so let your guard down and have a little fun. Beat Duke!


  1. I agree with you Chris. Let people enjoy the madness. I like to have happy employees, and the tournament does allow you to learn a little bit about some of them.

  2. You sound fun to work for. Enjoy the tournament!


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