Every year at this time, it's bound to happen. People congregate around cubicles and break rooms during business hours to fill out brackets for the men's NCAA Tournament -- an annual ritual known as March Madness.
Grown men and women, responsible and productive employees even, will use company time to take part in office pools, watch games, check scores, and find other distracting interludes that disrupt flow and productivity.
The severity of this can't be ignored. Recent research by staffing firm OfficeTeam found the average worker spends 25.5 minutes on March Madness-related activities during the 15 workdays of the tournament. That means by the end of the event, employees blow over six hours of work time fixated on watching games or checking scores online.
And bosses should let them.
While it's nearly impossible for managers to prevent their employees from sneaking a peek at the games, evidence suggests that those managers who trust their workers enough to let them watch hoops will gain an edge in the long run.
1. Why employees should participate in March Madness activities.
According to the OfficeTeam study, nearly half of professionals (46 percent) celebrate sporting events like March Madness at work, and another third (33 percent) may not watch but will take part in the office ritual. In total, about 62 percent of workers said they check scores while at the office.
"While employers may worry about events like March Madness being a distraction in the office, allowing workers to enjoy sports-related activities for even a few minutes can be time well spent," said Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam.
For stricter companies worried about the bottom line, the message is clear: Your workers
are going to watch one way or another, so you might as well embrace the idea and let them.
Think of it like this: Sporting events like March Madness can be opportunities for employees to develop relationships and get to know one another's personal interests and hobbies. If managers are smart, they see this is how you build community for competitive advantage. The closer a team gets outside of normal work-related activities, the higher the chances they will produce and collaborate better during crunch time at work.
According to Britton, "Staff will appreciate the opportunity to bond with colleagues and return to their desks rejuvenated."
While it's true many companies may experience a productivity dip during March Madness, more studies affirm the business-related payoffs.
One survey conducted by employee-time-management app TSheets found that 68 percent of employees said watching games increases or has no affect on their productivity.
Another survey, by Randstad U.S., found 89 percent of employees said participating in activities like office pools "help build better team camaraderie" and boost morale. Additionally, 79 percent of employees say it "greatly improves their levels of engagement at work." Finally, in the same study, 73 percent of workers say they look forward to going to work more when they participate in office pools.
"While many employers fear a loss of productivity due to the distraction of office pools during the college basketball tournament season, our findings suggest the potential short-term distraction in the office may actually be a win for employee morale, engagement, and satisfaction in the long-term," says Jim Link, chief human resource officer at Randstad North America.
Less tolerant and micromanaged workplaces may experience the payoffs discussed, but only after a hard prerequisite: Releasing control and treating employees like mature adults who will take care of business post-tournament.
"Companies should trust employees to manage their time. Good workers still get their projects done, even if they take occasional breaks," says OfficeTeam's Brandi Britton.