It’s March again, and with it comes “March Madness,” a time of the year where seemingly everyone around is infected with a fever for college basketball. Even for those who have absolutely no interest in the tournament, it is hard to escape hearing about it. Even President Obama got in on the action, taking a break from his busy schedule of running country to pick UNC as his champion.
Along with all of this media coverage, come all of the reports of how much March Madness will cost the economy in terms of lost productivity. Distracted by office pools, tournament brackets, and the fact that all of the games will be streamed for free over the internet this year, workers everywhere are called by the siren song of the NCAA tournament. Previous studies have estimated that the tournament will cost anywhere from $1 to $4 billion in lost productivity.
So, is this something that businesses should worry about though? Not really.
First of all, the math and assumptions used to calculate such losses are rather ridiculous and full of holes. A similar study back in 2006 tried to claim that “workplace interuptions,” like phone calls, cost the US $588 billion a year. Sure, you may spend 2 minutes doing something that is not exactly in your job description, but to automatically assume that the time is forever lost and somehow cumulative is completely bogus. If you’re measuring productivity in terms of hours, instead of actual work outputted, then perhaps you’re measuring the wrong thing.
Secondly, March Madness is a good opportunity to “embrace the annual ritual as a way to boost morale.” This is the advice of John A. Challenger, CEO of the very firm that conducts the lost productivity study each year (interestingly, the firm chose not to do the study this year). Your team is one of your most important assets, and during a downturn, it’s even more critical to make sure that it is running well. Challenger suggests holding an sanctioned office pool, where the proceeds go to charity or the winner gets a restaurant gift certificate.
Finally, March Madness is perhaps the first real respite that we’ve gotten as a nation from the hard realities of the recent past. While it’s important to keep working hard to right our economic ship, it’s also important to take a break once in awhile.