March Madness Could Cost Employers $4 Billion

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The NCAA basketball championship tournament, aka March Madness, may be a high-point for sports fans. It is anything but for employers who see a productivity decline during the playoffs. If fans aren’t listening to or watching the games, they’re probably talking about them or creating that winning bracket for the workplace pool.

And all that takes time away from the work they’re paid to do, and at an average U.S. hourly salary of $25.35, every hour spent on March Madness costs employers $1.3 billion.

According to a report released Thursday by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, some 51 million Americans plan to participate in workplace pools this year, about 20% of the total U.S. workforce of 252.6 million.

If employers are smart, they’ll smile and write those paychecks. Andrew Challenger tells why:

We are approaching full employment across the country. In some metropolitan areas, the unemployment is well below the threshold where talent is readily available. In this environment, employers should be taking steps to increase engagement and loyalty, not find ways to crush morale and employee camaraderie. … It might be tempting for employers to try to beat back the flames by limiting access to streaming sites or banning office pools, but such a strategy will only backfire. Efforts to suppress the Madness would most likely result in long-term damage to employee morale, loyalty and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity.

Challenger gives a rough idea of how much this could cost. Assume one hour figuring out a bracket and two more hours watching games played and streamed on Thursday and Friday. That’s three hours at $1.3 billion an hour for a total of $3.9 billion in lost productivity.

Sunday, March 13, is selection day for the 64-team men’s Division 1 tournament field, and we have a look at ticket prices at 25 of the country’s premier basketball colleges.