Channel the March hoops frenzy into productive energy at work

This article is written by Terri Dougherty, associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. For more information, visit and

When 68 basketball teams from across the nation hit the hardwood for the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s tournament, beginning March 18 and 19, millions of workers turn away from the task at hand to catch at least some of the action. However, that diverted attention doesn’t mean workplace productivity needs to collapse.

Rather than trying to limit access to scores and games, employers might want to consider how they can make interest in the tournament work to their advantage.

“You may find that employees’ common interest in the tournament actually has team-building potential,” stated Katie Loehrke, the editor of the Employment Law Today newsletter from compliance resource firm J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. “Employees may be creating new relationships within your organization that they wouldn’t otherwise have occasion to form.”

Set a game plan

While an employer shouldn’t be expected to set up flat panel televisions and hand out remote controls, it can embrace the team spirit the tournament creates. Options can include letting workers:

  • Show their colors. Employees might rally around a casual day that allows them to wear the colors of their favorite team.
  • Flex some muscle. Workers may appreciate flexible hours that allow them to catch a big game.
  • Pool resources. A company-wide pool that allows employees to fill out the brackets for fun — and does not involve cash prizes or an entry fee — could be an ice-breaker, and chatter about last-second victories and upsets offers an opportunity for employee bonding.
  • Take a break. An organization that does not allow employees to bring their cell phones, iPads, or other portable electronics into the office may let workers check scores online while on break. Also, make sure the games are on in the lunchroom so workers can do some scoreboard watching during lunch or break time.

When employees are clear about their responsibilities, putting a little play in the day can positively charge the workplace atmosphere. Employees who are closely attuned to a company’s goals may bring it upon themselves to find the balance between fun and job obligations when there’s a special event going on during the workday.

“Employees who don’t overdo it may be getting a much-needed mental break for a few minutes during the workday,” Loehrke said. “Knowing that they’re trusted to get their work done while having a few brief conversations about a personal interest can also provide a morale boost.”

Playing by the rules

The key for employers to keeping distraction to a minimum is to set parameters for workers. A company may already have the March Madness issue covered under a blanket Internet use policy. If there is a concern that IT resources will be strained as employees search for scores and stream video, damage can be mitigated if employees have a clear understanding of their boss’ position.

If Internet access is for work-related purposes only, it wouldn’t hurt to remind employees of that fact before the tourney begins. A company also would be wise to let employees know the consequences for not following the policy, which could range from disciplinary action to termination.

“Employees should know what is expected of them this month and every month,” Loehrke said. “Employees should know how much time is acceptable to spend on personal matters during work time. Most organizations allow employees at least some time to discuss or pursue personal interests, but there must be a limit.”

Employees also should be aware that the company may monitor and audit their Internet use. Employees should not expect their computer use to be private and should be made aware of policies that might limit or prohibit cell phone use during working time.

“A reminder to employees around this time of year about policies may be all it takes to curb the kind of overzealous participation that kills productivity,” Loehrke said. “No matter what the distraction, employees should always be held to the same standard of performance. If they can’t be part of a pool and still be productive, discipline may well be in order.”

A winning strategy

However a company handles the issue, managers, supervisors, and employees should all be aware of the company’s stance. Clearly communicating the policy, and letting employees know what’s allowed and when, can keep morale and productivity high.

Properly handled, an event that generates such high interest doesn’t need to be a negative. It can help a company establish a positive workplace tone, offering an opportunity to boost morale while underscoring the importance of everyone’s contribution to the organization’s success.

The NCAA tournament will end with one champion, but a company that knows how to channel the energy it generates is also likely to be on the way to a winning season.

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