The Cost of March Madness: $2.3 Billion per Hour

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The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament — aka, March Madness — begins next week and it’s a sure thing that millions of Americans will be keeping at least one eye on the games. More than 40 million Americans will fill out tournament brackets, and nearly 24 million of those will be Americans who have jobs.

Researchers at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas cite one estimate that the productivity loss to employers totals $2.3 billion an hour in time their employees spend engaged with March Madness. That could be sneaking a peek at a live stream of a particular game or spending a few minutes checking and updating a bracket.

Andrew Challenger, vice-president at the firm, said:

Between streaming games during work hours to filling out brackets to just discussing the games with co-workers, it’s likely employees will spend much more than one hour during the week-long tournament engaged in March Madness-related activities at work.

The 2017 games saw 88 million livestreams. Even workers who aren’t deskbound will be distracted by these games. Bump time spent to two hours, and the tournament could cost employers nearly $5 billion in wages paid to distracted, unproductive workers.

Because it’s going to happen anyway, Challenger suggests that employers view the tournament as an “opportunity for colleagues to bond in the workplace.” Any attempt to shut down interest in the games is “most likely to result in real damage to employee morale, loyalty, and engagement.” The damage would far outweigh a short-term loss of productivity.

If a company cannot emulate Warren Buffett’s offer of $1 million a year for life to any employee who correctly picks every bracket leading to the Sweet Sixteen (the odds are very long in Buffett’s favor), there are other ways to profit from March Madness. Says Challenger:

Employers could create company-wide office pools that are free to enter and offer lunches or gift cards to the winner. They should also consider setting up a television or computer monitor where workers can gather to watch the games. This could also eliminate the need for individual workers to stream games, thus freeing up bandwidth and potentially giving the IT department a break.

Consider giving employees extended lunches or offering longer breaks at other times throughout the day to allow them to catch games that interest them. Employers could also offer telecommuting options so workers who are able can have the games on in the background at home as they work.

A great recruitment tool, especially for younger workers just out of college, may be to promote how the office celebrates and engages in March Madness. In a tight labor market, any selling point can help attract talent.