Does March Madness really cut into work productivity?

3/18/2013

Here comes March Madness, when productivity will grind to a halt as employees tune in to the dozens of games played during working hours—at least that's the widely held belief. But is it true?

That reputation of the NCAA basketball tournament, which begins Tuesday and concludes April 8, is due in part to a well-known report put out annually by outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. This year, staffing company OfficeTeam has produced a report that casts doubt on Challenger's findings.

Challenger on Wednesday released its calculation of the output to be lost—at least $134 million—to workers watching the championship tournament, saying, "Employers should be readying themselves for the inevitable drop in productivity."

But OfficeTeam surveyed more than 1,000 managers about the effect of March Madness and found that just 9 percent of managers said it disrupted productivity. Sixteen percent said the effect on productivity was a positive one. And the vast majority of managers surveyed—75 percent—said the games had no effect on productivity or morale.

Challenger Gray & Christmas has made light of its own study—last year's report said it "gives legitimate scientific studies a bad name." But if its methodology is simplistic, it is also straightforward.

Challenger takes the 2.2 million average daily viewership the tournament drew last year on NCAA March Madness Live, which is streamed free online for certain pay-TV viewers. Then it inflates the number to account for the growing use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and arrives at "at least 3 million viewers."

Then Challenger takes the average U.S. wage of $22.38 an hour and multiplies that 3 million viewers and by two days—during the first two days many games occur during work hours—to arrive at "at least $134 million."

But yet another poll suggests the game-watching idleness may be even further reaching.

A survey by MSN and Impulse Research found that 66 percent of workers say they'll follow the games during work hours. Almost one-third say they'll spend at least three hours watching instead of working, and over half of those say they'll be fixated on the tournament for at least five hours.


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