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NL_march-madnessEvery March, televisions and smart devices all across the United States will be tuned in to basketball games and the latest scores and rankings. And employers across the country will be equally obsessed with the slump in productivity and how to avert it.

Every year the NCAA basketball tournament captures the attention of diehard basketball fans — as well as those who never follow college basketball during the regular season. Believe it or not, it is also responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of lost productivity in the workplace. Here are a few interesting facts about the phenomenon known as March Madness.

  • Your chance of filling out a perfect bracket is 1 in 9.2 quintillion! That’s roughly the same odds as getting hit by lightning — twice — on the same day you win the largest jackpot in lottery history.
  • The term “March Madness” was first used in connection with an Illinois state high school basketball tournament, when, in 1939, an official with the state’s basketball association wrote an article titled “March Madness” for the association’s in-house magazine. In it, he wrote, “A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” It was repurposed in 1982 when sportscaster Brent Musburger uttered it during his tournament coverage.
  • Notre Dame shooting guard Austin Carr set a tournament game record by sinking 61 points in a first-round matchup with Ohio in 1979. The closest threat to that record was the United States Naval Academy’s David Robinson, who scored 50 points during a 1987 matchup.
  • Only one time in the history of March Madness have all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four. It happened in 2008, with Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, and UCLA making it to the last round. It therefore holds the record for the most predictable tournament in its history.
  • WalletHub estimates that American beer production for the month of March will increase from an average of 14 million barrels a month to 16 million, pizza orders will jump 19%, and U.S. businesses will lose nearly $1.9 billion in productivity because of employees whose attention is diverted by March Madness.

The productivity dilemma

For three weeks every March, normally productive workers will use company time to fill out brackets, watch games, check scores, and engage in basketball banter with co-workers. Knowing that employees are going to be paying attention to the games no matter what rules they try to enforce, some managers are resigned to the attitude, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” These employers permit employees to watch the games, but stress that they finish critical work — even if it means coming in early or staying late. Responsible employees will usually do so.

Managers report that when they organize events around March Madness and encourage employees to watch games, employees are happier at work and don’t abuse the privilege. Employers are realizing that organizing events around sporting events such as the NCAA tournament is a great opportunity for team building and for managers and employees to get to know each other.

March Madness isn’t going away anytime soon. It will impact your publishing operations, but if companies embrace the event and use it to boost morale and encourage camaraderie, it can actually provide a brief but welcome respite from the grind of everyday work — and employees will likely be rejuvenated and ready to focus on work.

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