The NCAA released its annual March Madness men’s basketball tournament bracket on Sunday. And so begins a huge spate of often friendly (but technically illegal) gambling pools in the United States—$2.5 billion worth annually, according to FBI estimates.
Companies apparently have come to see March Madness as an employee morale booster, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Most HR professionals view office pools as positive: More than two-thirds thought they helped with employee relationship building, while 64 percent thought they promoted team building and 54 percent said they increased employee engagement.
Eighty-one percent of employers reported that they do not have policies regulating office pools, up from 67 percent in 2010, according to the survey. Only 5 percent of businesses with fewer than 100 employees had a written policy regarding pools.
Meanwhile, ABC News reports that office pools are not high on the priority of law enforcement officials.
Though many small businesses apparently overlook the legal issues surrounding office pools and embrace the employee benefits and fun they can bring, there are other potential drawbacks to consider. Worker productivity can take a significant hit. The NCAA March Madness games cost U.S. employers an estimated $1.2 billion in worker hours spent watching the games during the workday, according to an estimate from consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That’s based on an earlier estimate that found 50 million workers planned to participate in March Madness office pools.
Robert Half’s OfficeTeam says employers can take some steps to limit the lost productivity and costs of allowing employees to participate in office pools:
- Provide workers with special “time-outs” during which to discuss the games.
- Foster friendly competition by letting employees wear their favorite teams’ apparel or decorate their office space.
- Before the March Madness sets in, establish rules for when employees can or cannot watch games or use the office Internet to check scores.
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