Everybody in the Pool!

Mar 19, 2011 No Comments by

Welcome to March Madness!  According to a recent CNYCentral.com article it’s estimated that US workers will waste over $192 Million worth of productivity over the next few weeks watching basketball games and filling out “brackets” of predictions at work.

Click to read the article: http://www.cnycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=591153

Office pools based on the tournament have become so popular that around one third of US companies actually ban them! One of the websites that streams the games live over the internet even has a “boss button” in the corner that allows employees to quickly hide the action when your supervisor walks by.

Today’s post asks the question:

“Is it more productive to ban activities like NCAA Basketball pools at work or to lean into the fun and make it a team-building opportunity?”

Over the next 2 posts, I will make the argument for both sides.

Today I’ll describe the negative opinion.

Five Good Reasons To Shut It Down: There’s a school of thought that considers all forms of workplace distraction to be a negative thing for the company.  According to practitioners who follow this way of thinking:

1. A Dollar is a Dollar. There is no reason to condone lost productivity whether it comes from a basketball pool or a monthly celebration of birthdays.  Any time that you pull people away from their desks to gather for these events, you are pulling money right out of the bottom line.  An hour is an hour. A minute is a minute and a dollar is a dollar.

2. Collateral Distraction: Game-playing workers not only trash their own productivity, but they stand around their cubicles talking loudly about basketball while others are trying to get meaningful work done. This collateral distraction lowers everyone’s output.

3. It Goes On and On: The subject matter of the tournament is so engaging and so universal that casual conversations tend to run longer and involve more and more people as the day goes on – this is often called “the water cooler effect”.

4. It’s Everywhere: Dozens of March Madness games are played during work hours over the first two days of the tournament.  With live streaming internet audio and video, the contests are now available at every computer or TV in the office.

Combine these two factors and you have a recipe for a time-buster.  Unlike the classic water cooler / break room dialogue that surrounds last night’s episode of American Idol or last Sunday’s NFL games, it is almost impossible to shield people from the temptation.

Some  companies go so far as to block all  streaming content on company  computers during the tournament – which  simply forces employees to use  their private smart phones, iPads and  other web-enabled gadgets.

I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

5. It Might be a Legal Thing: The final nail in the coffin of the case for having March Madness fun at work is the potential legal ramifications of allowing your employees to gamble during work hours. Not only are they doing so on company time, but in the case of a public sector organization, there may be rules against on-the-job wagering.

Sometimes the rules allow for employee games and contests as long as there is no money changing hands.  It might be in your company’s best interest to draw the line either way.

I once had a boss who summarized the case against a pool by saying: “Do that stuff on your own time. While you’re here, you are working for me and that makes it my time. Get back to work.”  (thank goodness for the Boss Button!)

Summary: A clear case can be made for  not allowing an NCAA pool in your office.  It saps productivity and distracts people who are not even involved.  The case can also be made for allowing the pool to go forward – and even encouraging it. Since every employee actually has a choice regarding how they spend their time at work, companies may want to find ways to make that time more pleasant.

As the famous philosopher Jeff Sicolli said in the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High:

“If you’re here and I’m here, doesn’t that make this OUR time?”

It can also be useful to leverage events like the tournament for team-building purposes.  In tomorrow’s post I will share the reasons FOR allowing pools and other such distractions.

OBTW: Tomorrow I will share my bracket. I picked Kansas to win it all but I’ll be pulling for my Alma Mater: the Illinois Fighting Illini. (Who stomped UNLV last night!)

My NCAA Bracket is not doing so well.  I ended the first day of the tournament in last place out of 18 players. Considering that 2 of the brackets in our pool were submitted by family pets and one was filled out by a young man who is not yet 2 years old, it’s safe to say I am not going to quit my day job and head to Las Vegas as a bookie.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. So which side are you on? Allow a basketball pool or ban it?
  2. What other risks come with having an NCAA basketball pool or other informal office event like a pool?

Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

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