Business, employee prep for March Madness includes ‘game central’ idea

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 8,033 views 

As the University of Arkansas men’s and women’s basketball teams prepare for their respective NCAA tournaments this week, some workplace managers may fear that productivity will come to a halt when red-clad Razorbacks fans and other college logo-adorned devotees come to work on Thursday.

The Arkansas men’s basketball team will return to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 5 seed in the West Region and will take on No. 12 seed Wofford in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday at 8:50 p.m. The No. 10 seed women’s basketball team will face Northwestern in their first round game in Waco, Texas on Friday at 11 a.m.

For the men, the NCAA Tournament appearance will be Razorbacks’ first since 2008 and the program’s 30th overall. Arkansas earned an at-large bid after finishing second in the SEC regular season standings and second in the SEC Tournament.

The questions for some Arkansas employers during March Madness is just how to handle all chaos from office betting pools, impromptu Razorback pizza and cheese-dip parties, and the inevitable strain on corporate networks and servers from the hours of desktop live streaming during the month-long tournament.

The National Federation of Independent Business recently posted a video on its website to help business owners deal with March Madness in a way that is not disruptive to the workplace.

“The bad news for employees is that the majority of the games take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the weekday,” Beth Melito, senior counsel at NFIB’s legal center said. “This means that employees can and mostly will follow along on their computer, iPad and smartphones to watch games and track (March Madness) brackets while at work.”

Melito offered some tips for employers to embrace all the “madness” in a manageable way. Those suggestions include establishing a “game central” location at work, relaxing dress codes, keeping office pools low key and voluntary, and checking on the legal ramifications of high-stakes bracket contests.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. has put out an annual survey estimating the actual cost in terms of lost wages paid to distracted and unproductive workers that participate in March Madness office pools. This year’s survey estimates that 50 million Americans participating in bracket contests at work, cost employers near $1.9 billion in lost productivity.

“That figure may be on the conservative side, considering this year could garner a lot more interest from even casual basketball fans eager to see if Kentucky can continue its undefeated season through the tournament,” John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in a news release.

“If Kentucky plays their first tournament game during the workday, it wouldn’t be shocking if every single working person in the state called in sick for the day or took an extra-long lunch break,” Challenger joked.

Challenger’s estimate is based on the number of working Americans who are likely to be caught up in March Madness; the estimated time spent filling out brackets and streaming games; and average hourly earnings, which, in January, stood at $24.78, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But a new OfficeTeam survey suggests that March Madness may actually be good for the workplace. In the OfficeTeam poll, half (50%) of senior managers interviewed said activities tied to the college basketball playoffs boost employee morale, and more than one-third (36%) felt March Madness has a positive impact on workplace productivity. These results are up from 32% and 27%, respectively, in a similar survey conducted one year ago.

“Employers that encourage staff to enjoy events like March Madness recognize that these activities don’t have to be viewed as negative workplace distractions,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of California-based staffing service firm. “Organizing friendly contests or watching big games together can give employees much-needed breaks and opportunities to build camaraderie.”

OfficeTeam also identifies five mistakes workers should avoid when celebrating March Madness.
• Going against the playbook. Before participating in any tournament-related activities, find out your company’s policies on employee breaks, accessing the Internet for non-business purposes and decorating workspaces.

• Taking too many time-outs. If your employer is OK with it, take occasional breaks to check scores or talk hoops with colleagues, but make sure to keep up with your assignments.

• Failing to have a game plan. If you want to take time off to watch the playoffs, let your boss know as far in advance as possible so he or she can manage workloads.

• Being a poor sport. It’s fine to root for your favorite school, but don’t get overly competitive in the office.

• Not being a team player. Even if you aren’t a sports fan, try to join in on celebratory activities to bond with co-workers.

No doubt, some Arkansas employers recognize that Thursday will be like a national holiday in Arkansas as the Razorbacks prepare for their matchup. Alternative Design Manufacturing and Supply in Siloam Springs is holding a 20% off online sale through March 20 on all Razorback related products through its Osage Eagle Products brand.

Jay Martin, marketing manager for the Northwest Arkansas manufacturer, said the company is holding its “March Mania” sale on its lineup of licensed Arkansas Razorback products through March 20.

“Knowing that Arkansas is in the tournament, we thought this would be a great time to take advantage of the fact that we are approved to manufacture Razorback licensed products – plus we wanted to have a little fun,” he said.

Martin said the company was started by University of Arkansas alumni and Razorback fan Eddie Lloyd and his son, company president Grant Lloyd, making steel caging products for the poultry and animal laboratory industries. In the past few years, the company has diversified into the product licensing arena through Osage Eagle Products, and makes license plates, wall art, yard signs and other University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University labeled products.

Langston, also a University of Arkansas alumnus, said Thursday will be a big day for Razorback fans and admitted that not a lot of work will probably be done.

“We have a bracket contest that I have been running for the last three years, and we get ten to 15 of our 50 employees involved,” he said. “You get bragging rights for a year if you win. Our owners are very interested in making work fun and support this endeavor.”