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March Madness: Harmless Distraction or Career Threat?

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AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Is there a worker in the country who doesn’t know that March Madness officially got under way today? Even if you care nothing about basketball of any kind, chances are if you work in an office someone has been round pushing a blank bracket under your nose in the last couple of weeks. And, even if you chose not to fill that bracket out—which puts you in a category that doesn’t include President Obama—the chances are many of your colleagues did, which means you’ll be hearing all about it until the tournament is over.

Opinion on whether bracket participation is a good thing or not is widely varied. While the majority of people clearly believe it to be harmless fun—with some even suggesting that it has a positive effect on company morale–there are other opinions out there. Several business papers—most notably the Wall Street Journal—have picked up a survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas that estimates “worker distraction and lost time will cost U.S. employers $1.8 billion during the first week of the tournament alone.” Of course, the Journal also notes that the folks at Challenger offer the disclaimer that their “estimate is probably about as accurate as the points spreads computed by Las Vegas bookmakers.” (While that’s supposed to add a tongue-in-cheek element, I can’t remember the last time I encountered a cash-strapped bookmaker, so clearly their points spreads can’t be all bad!)

Lost productivity is likely one of the main reasons behind the fact that around one-third of US companies have policies in place that restrict office pools and workplace gambling, according to the SHRM. And little wonder: look around many workplaces today and you’re bound to discover many cases of covert (and sometimes blatantly open) ball-watching, and many more instances of colleagues huddled around screens checking the scores from the opening games against their brackets.

While that kind of behavior may seem like harmless fun, be aware that your boss might not share your outlook: the Journal piece raises the specter that “a few employers could fire people for unauthorized Internet use, for watching the games.” Imagine trying to explain that one away at your next interview.

What’s your perspective on brackets at work? Are they a harmless distraction or something worse? Do they help morale or infuriate you when you see your colleagues using work time to keep up with sports stories. Have you ever known anyone to get into trouble for their sport-viewing habits at work? I’m keen to know the answers to all of these questions and more. Chime in via the comments section. Take our homepage poll (it’s on the bottom right), or join our Facebook discussion.


Written by Phil Stott

March 18, 2010 at 3:36 pm

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