Don’t let March Madness turn your office into a madhouse

While even non-sports fans often enjoy the NCAA Basketball Tournament, following some simple rules can ensure fair play for everyone in the workplace.

Fans of college basketball are eagerly awaiting the start of the NCAA Tournament on March 13, even if Big Ten devotees still feel a bit thrown off from the league playing its conference tournament a week earlier than usual.

Water cooler chatter about the office pool might have even started up, as even non-sports fans often enjoy filling out a bracket and competing against co-workers for fun or (shhh) money.

But with March Madness about to heat up, it’s important to go over the rules of play to ensure everyone in the office has a good time and no one commits a foul.

According to a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam, professionals said they spend an average of 25.5 minutes per workday on sports-related activities during the college basketball tournament. With the tournament spread across 15 workdays, that’s the equivalent of six hours per employee.

The research also revealed:

  • Male employees and those ages 18 to 34 spend the most time on tournament-related activities at work (36 minutes and 34 minutes on average a day, respectively), such as talking to colleagues and participating in informal competitions.
  • Nearly half of professionals (46%) love celebrating sports events like March Madness in the office, with men (64%) and employees ages 18 to 34 (55%) most frequently saying this.
  • Checking game scores and team rankings (62%) is the most common activity. 

“Even if you aren’t rooting for a particular basketball team, participating in office March Madness activities can be a great opportunity to take a quick break from work and build rapport with colleagues,” says Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager of OfficeTeam in Madison.

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Since most people have smartphones these days and often use them for entertainment, Truckenbrod notes fewer employers are choosing to provide TVs in common areas so employees can check in on the games. Instead, employers are taking a more understanding approach to workers checking their phones throughout the day.

Employees should be cautious about abusing that employer goodwill though. While a 2017 OfficeTeam survey of workers showed nearly half of employees (48%) said their company doesn’t block access to non-work websites, workers still reported social media (39%) and entertainment websites (30%) as the most commonly blocked at their companies.

Not surprisingly, more than half of professionals surveyed (58%) said they often use their personal devices at work to visit pages that are banned by their company, a 36-point jump from a 2012 survey. Only 39% of managers think it happens that commonly.

While companies may take a more relaxed stance about more frequent non-work internet use during the tournament, employees need to be cognizant of how their increased online activity — including streaming games on their computer or smartphone — can create potential security or network bandwidth issues for the company.

Completing work assignments should remain any professional’s top priority while in the office, notes Truckenbrod. “The best gauge of whether employees are spending too much time on personal activities is how effective they are on the job. If deadlines are missed or quality of work declines, that’s a clear sign that an employee needs to focus less time on non-work activities.”

Also, employees should pay attention to those around them. If co-workers and managers don’t spend time on these activities, then you should probably follow suit, advises Truckenbrod. Employees also need to remember that some co-workers either don’t want to participate in March Madness festivities or simply can’t because of a pressing deadline. Being respectful of those colleagues goes a long way toward ensuring everyone has a good time.

Truckenbrod offers the following tips for managers on maintaining productivity during March Madness season:

  • Grant time-outs. Allowing employees to take quick breaks to check scores or chat with co-workers about the tournament can help them recharge. An informal lunch or dinner at a restaurant to watch a big game also can build camaraderie.
  • Go over the rules. Clearly communicate policies regarding employee breaks and internet use so professionals know what’s acceptable when it comes to March Madness and other non-work activities.
  • Take the lead. Set a good example by showing how to participate in tournament festivities without getting sidelined from responsibilities. If you complete assignments before talking hoops, employees will likely follow suit.
  • Evaluate your bench. If team members want to take time off to watch the playoffs, ask them to submit requests as far in advance as possible. This will help you manage workloads and determine if interim assistance is needed to keep projects on track.      

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Behavior to avoid during March Madness

According to Truckenbrod, it’s not just the teams playing in the NCAA Tournament that have some archetypal personalities. Beware of these players at your office:

The Rookie doesn’t follow the playbook regarding employee breaks and internet use during the tournament. On game day, this person arrives with a jersey, face paint, and giant foam finger in tow.

  • Advice: Encourage him or her to read up on company policies to find out what activities are acceptable.

The Commentator spends more time talking sports than completing assignments.

  • Advice: Take quick breaks to chat about tournament highlights with this colleague, if allowed, but don’t let your work suffer. If you’re the boss and he or she wants to take time off to enjoy the tournament, mention it’d be helpful to know as far in advance as possible so you can reassign projects or bring in temporary professionals.  

The Poor Sport takes competition too far, throwing jabs at anyone who doesn’t root for his or her favorite college.

  • Advice: Remind this co-worker it’s just a game. Don’t let friendly banter get out of hand, regardless of team allegiances.

The Benchwarmer doesn’t know a thing about “The Big Dance” or “bracket busters.” This spoilsport passes on all the hoopla.

  • Advice: If colleagues are celebrating by watching games together or having an informal contest, invite this person to join. Make it easy for non-sports fans to participate and have fun. However, if they’ve made it clear that they’ve got a pressing deadline or a big project that requires their full attention, be respectful. Try to keep the noise contained and out of earshot from employees who need to focus on work.

Go team

OfficeTeam research shows nearly one in four senior managers (23%) say their employer organizes activities tied to sporting events like March Madness.

In that 2017 OfficeTeam survey, senior managers whose organizations have activities said the top benefit is showing the company supports a healthy blend of work and play (39%), followed by building camaraderie among colleagues (37%).

Two-thirds (66%) of workers said celebrating sporting events in the office boosts employee happiness and brings out team spirit in the workplace. “It provides an opportunity for workers to bond as they talk about scores and root for their favorite schools,” says Truckenbrod. “[Companies should] foster friendly competition. Let staff wear their favorite team’s apparel or decorate their workspaces, within reason, to get in the spirit.”

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