Sports fans around the United States have been preparing their brackets and reading up on the players and teams in anticipation of the annual college basketball tournament, which started Thursday.
For businesses, though, this isn’t always a winning time of year.
Studies show that companies lose money during the college basketball playoffs due to worker productivity losses. A new report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement service, estimates this year’s tournament will produce a hefty $1.9 billion in U.S. worker productivity losses. (That’s based on the estimate that 77.7 million workers will watch the games—as has been reported in past surveys—and that each worker spends at least one hour watching the tournament when they should be working.)
But even those estimates might be conservative: With University of Kentucky's men's basketball team undefeated for the season so far, the tournament has drawn in more interest and viewership than in past years.
“With this incredible storyline around University of Kentucky—the best squad in [the college basketball association's] history—we just think it’s going to be a huge draw for that casual sports fan,” says Andy Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “You can definitely expect zero economic activity from the state of Kentucky anytime UK is on TV."
Challenger says small companies shouldn’t outlaw the tournament in the office, however. It’s usually impossible to ban it because so many people use their personal devices to watch games and check scores now. Instead, businesses should embrace the games and use it to bolster employee morale (not kill it) by incorporating the tournament into work:
- Set up TVs in the break room. Having TVs in a break area where employees can watch the games can send the right message: The games are meant to be watched during breaks—not during work time, Challenger says. Plus, having TVs may prevent employees from using their personal devices or work computers to stream the games, which could overload the workplace Internet and really kill workplace productivity.
- Let employees wear their favorite team's gear during the playoffs. Even if you have a workplace dress code, letting people break it for a day or two can spark conversations and bring some friendly competitive spirit to the office.
“Companies should be aware that it’s not just white-collar workers sitting at their desktops watching the games,” Challenger adds. “Because of all of these devices, everybody is tracking it on their phones. It’s a bigger drain than companies think.”
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