March Madness will be unleashed tomorrow, and critics and fans alike are arguing about the tournament’s effect–good or bad–on the workplace.
Around this time every year, talk of Cinderellas, dancing and glass slippers tends to creep into the water-cooler chitchat. But it has nothing to do with the latest Disney-inspired craze and everything to do with another annual event: March Madness.
This phenomenon is properly called the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, and it provides the sports-crazed public a very popular version of a true collegiate playoff. Perhaps, then, it’s no wonder that both avid followers of college basketball, casual fans, the downright curious and—let’s face it—the ones who are just hopeful of winning the office pool, furiously fill out (and check, and check and check) their brackets during the duration of the tourney.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the action on the court, the Davids upsetting the Goliaths and the dramatic buzzer-beater wins, the Madness can spill over into the workplace, according to one controversial study.
Each year, the consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas attempts to gauge just how much productivity is lost thanks to all the bracket checking and online video streaming, and then they put it in terms of dollars.
The wild variation of that number from one year to the next tends to cause most to scoff at the unrealistic methods used to arrive at the total. For example, last year’s study numbers estimated that the NCAA tournament cost a $1.8 billion loss, while 2012’s adjusted figure is $192 million.
Critics of the study say that the assumption on which the firm operates to derive the number—that employees are productive every single minute of the work day–is simply unrealistic.
And let’s face it. The madness created by the NCAA tournament begins earlier than the tip-off of the first game (yes, even if you’re counting any of the play-in games that decide the final field of 64).
Not only are there multiple conference tournaments leading up to Selection Sunday, but there’s also checking the availability of the brackets, plus printing them and filling them out. And, if you’re really into it, you have to account for following all the experts and magazines like Sports Illustrated breaking down all the bubble teams and their odds of going dancing.
The bad news is that it seems March Madness could make the workforce even less productive than once thought (that is if you buy the study’s erratic numbers). But, according to one social psychologist, there are redeeming positives that emerge from the chaos.
Don Forsyth, a University of Richmond professor, says the camaraderie created among employees by talking about it can boost morale—and ironically, even productivity.