What to Expect in the Workplace During March Madness


It’s that time of year again. Everyone is talking about Cinderella teams, brackets, upset alerts, and cutting down nets. As an employer, you may be wondering how March Madness impacts your team morale and productivity levels. And the reality is, the NCAA basketball tournament does have an effect. But just how much? Let’s dive in and find out.

All About March Madness

March Madness refers to the weeks during which the NCAA college basketball tournament takes place, usually beginning in mid-March and running through the first week of April. It begins with a handful of play-in games, allowing lower-seeded teams to earn their spot. Before these games happen, participants must fill out a bracket, making their best guesses about which team will win each game.

The tournament kicks off with 64 teams. Since it happens over several weeks, games take place on specific days. Round one starts on a Thursday with games happening throughout the day for two straight days. Fans of the tournament may be watching closely or listening in the background, but there is essentially at least one game happening from around 12 p.m. ET until late in the evening.

Round two kicks off on the Saturday after round one ends, with 32 teams remaining. The games aren’t quite as frequent, as there are half as many happening during the same two-day period. But there are still a lot – eight games per day – with the victorious teams heading to the “Sweet Sixteen” round.

Teams get a few days off, with the next round beginning the following Friday. This year, the Sweet Sixteen round starts on March 28, with winners moving on to the Elite Eight, happening on March 30 and 31. The Final Four get to duke it out on April 6, while the last game will happen on April 8. The final two rounds aren’t as disruptive, though, as they happen in the evening.

Productivity Losses

For sports fans and those not interested in basketball in the slightest, this time is often quite exciting. Families, friends and groups of co-workers may get together to create bracket challenge groups, competing against one another to see who can make the most correct picks. Since the entire bracket is filled out prior to the tip-off of the first game, the odds of picking every team right are low. But any correct picks add points to the score, and viewers often cheer for teams they’ve never heard of, let alone rooted for in the past.

Since so many games happen during a relatively short period, people across the nation may find themselves immersed in the coverage rather than focusing on the tasks at hand. According to Finance Buzz, a quarter of people use sick or PTO time to take a break from work and watch the games. More than a third of workers admitted to watching games while working.

HR professionals note concerns around watching games during work time, with nearly a quarter reporting decreased productivity. Other concerns include a misuse of company resources, inappropriate behavior in the workplace and trouble managing requests for time off.

How to Combat Concerns Around Productivity

It’s no surprise that productivity rates drop, whether employees are choosing to take time off or not. But here’s one thing to consider: It’s once a year, and it only lasts for a few days. Leaning into the tournament and making it more fun can have a significantly positive effect on those who look forward to it each year.

Of course, productivity concerns are still valid. You may look for ways to encourage employees to continue to get their tasks done and meet deadlines to avoid negative consequences for the organization overall. But when you consider the amount of time wasted during an average workday, it may become evident that those who spend more time watching are likely to waste more time in other ways as well. A good employee who works hard and completes their tasks while supporting their team members is unlikely to waste hours on a regular basis.

Incorporating March Madness Into Your Company Culture

As mentioned, leaning into the tournament and buzz around it can make a big difference in your culture and overall satisfaction among members of the workforce. Consider hosting a company-sponsored bracket challenge and allowing all who want to participate to submit their entries. If you can swing it, offer prizes to the winners to create some friendly competition.

You could also try to break up the days when games are happening, bringing in-office workers together to watch portions of games around lunch and break times. About a quarter of HR professionals recommend having a discussion around balancing the enjoyment of the event with taking care of work tasks.

Your company doesn’t have to close up shop or deal with ongoing frustration every time the tournament tips off. Instead, finding ways to make it fun and engaging can support those who want to take part without sacrificing too much.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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