Should You Allow Your Employees to Watch March Madness at the Office?

by | Mar 15, 2012 | Blog, Employee Morale

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

Are you ready for some…basketball?!? Wait, or is that for football? Whatever the theme song, the important message is that March Madness just tipped off this week.

And this year, we are right in the middle of it! The YUM! Center in Louisville is hosting the second and third rounds of the tournament creating even more hype than usual. (Also creating more traffic. Apparently the traffic will be quite a nightmare from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on game days! Of course, these days a little game day traffic seems like nothing compared to the Shermageddon traffic we experienced for five months!)

Your office is probably all a-buzz with basketball chatter especially since the area teams are competing this year and actually have a chance of taking the title. So we thought we’d bring you some helpful advice on how to deal with March Madness in your office.

This post can help you flip the madness upside down and show you how to use this once a year event to skyrocket your office morale.

The truth is that employees are checking the scores every chance they get, chatting about game highlights at the coffee pot and snack machines, and cutting out early, (or taking the day off entirely) if the opportunity permits to catch the game at the neighborhood pub or the YUM! center.  Forget dual monitors enhancing productivity during this week.  You can bet one of those is being used to stream the games, courtesy of CBS offering March Madness on Demand, which streams games live to any computer – a very tough barrier for office productivity.

How to Flip the Madness Upside Down

Now, one approach would be, of course, for employers to simply say “No way!” – as many do. We’ve heard many accounts of friends’ employers sending out mass emails threatening discipline for anyone caught watching games or even talking about brackets – but there is another way to approach it.

“This is work, for crying out loud! Forget basketball and get back to your jobs!” This would be a reasonable response and is most often the road taken, given that obsessive bracket-checking and television watching in the US during March Madness can result in about 8.4 million hours of lost work; multiply that figure by the $22.87 average hourly earning rate of private-sector workers and the financial impact comes out to $192 million.

However, before you staunchly get on your soapbox and claim your rights as an employer, let me give you a little hint: They are going to do it anyway. It’s unavoidable.  It’s a national event unlike any other that a lot of people have a stake in. Even if their bracket pool is only worth $32, the bragging rights and the fun are what matters.

But here’s the kicker. If you outlaw any sort of March Madness activity, your employees are going to have to sneak around, they are going to resent you for having to sneak around, and they will probably waste even more time because they will have to think of ways to be sneaky – quick Pam, hide the taskbar!

So consider this. 

Instead, take this time as an opportunity to increase office morale by being supportive of their pursuits and permitting a few weeks of indulgence. By allowing the activity, you can set parameters on it, and can control the amount of time spent away from work and how information and scores are accessed (by providing televisions, for instance, if bandwidth concerns are an issue). You can determine that you can allow office brackets, but if you are not comfortable with employees having pools, you can say that the competition must be for fun only without an exchange of money, or that money collected will go to the winner’s selected charity – not Bob’s new car fund.

Even employees who are not particularly interested in basketball will enjoy the camaraderie of getting together with their fellow staff members if short breaks are designated to watch the games on a single TV or computer, and everyone can enjoy a break in the dress code by supporting their favorite team. A company sponsored lunch (or employee provided pot luck!) is another great way for employees to spend time together and get to watch an afternoon game for a little while.  Your employees will appreciate this and they will reciprocate.

Increasing Office Morale 

As you can see, there are a number of ways employers can support the fun of March Madness, and by being active with their employees, management can establish boundaries so that things do not get out of control. Is it going to cost a little down time? Of course it will. However, that cost is a small price to pay for savings you will get compared to leaving employees to their own devices, and compared to the goodwill you will earn from employees who will remember the time allowed for fun when overtime is required for the next weekend inventory.

Can you think of any other ways to use March Madness to your advantage?  We’d love to hear your comments!


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