It's mid-March, the time of year when employees' thoughts turn to college hoops and employers' thoughts to the productivity lost to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Or so media coverage would have us believe.
There are a number of surveys and studies floating around that address the tournament's alleged impact on productivity, including the one most frequently cited in news stories, by outplacement recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
As I wrote back in 2008, the company's prior estimates of lost productivity took a bit of a beating. So this year, Challenger, Gray & Christmas goes to great lengths to explain how it arrived at this year's estimate of some $192 million in worker productivity lost to the NCAA tournament. (The short version: It multiplies the 8.4 million hours it figures workers will devote to viewing games online, based on CBSSports.com figures from last year's tournament, by the average private-sector hourly earnings of $22.87.)
Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger also points out these hours are a "relative drop in the bucket" of total productivity, accounting for just one-tenth of one percent of total hours worked in the U.S. during the tournament's three-week run.
Most managers seem to agree it's no big deal, based on a survey by staffing company OfficeTeam that found 57 percent of managers found NCAA tournament "madness" OK in moderation. Another 11 percent called tournament-related activities "a welcome diversion" and 32 percent said they shouldn't be allowed at work.
There are considerations beyond productivity, of course. There's the question of gambling raised by the common practice of office betting pools in which small amounts of money change hands. But even Suzanne Lucas, a BNET blogger who calls herself "The Evil HR Lady," doesn't think folks need to worry about that. She tells an uptight employee who worries about whether he should turn in a coworker running a pool to HR to lighten up, writing:
If your coworker is meeting shady characters in the parking lot and filling his desk with stacks of $100 bills, then I'd start worrying. But, if people are giving him $5-$10 per bet and laughing while doing it, I'd leave it alone. ...
Perhaps the most pressing issue for some workplaces will be the possible impact on network bandwidth. In offices with less than 100 workers, even just five or 10 people streaming basketball games "will definitely have an impact on everyone else's Internet speed," says Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
IT Business Edge contributor Ken-Hardin offered what I thought was a good suggestion for dealing with this issue, advising employers to "be flexible and let your folks go catch the big game on that arcane 20th Century tech, a TV." Tell folks they shouldn't stream games at their desks and let them know you'll keep an eye on usage to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.