Can NCAA March Madness Be Used Improve Employee Morale Without Destroying Productivity?

Chris Young
March 13, 2009 — 2,516 views  
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It's that magical time of the year for basketball fans. That's right it's time once again for March Madness! During the coming weeks offices and workplaces around the country will be abuzz with the latest news and information about the big tournament and high hopes will be set for alma maters participating in the Big Dance. All this excitement brings with it office pools and wagers placed by workers who try to predict how the 64 team tournament will pan out. Not surprisingly all this extra-curricular office activity will have an impact on productivity: a 3.5 billion dollar loss in American productivity by some estimates.

Stop! Before you rush to send out a scorching e-mail to everyone in the office warning of the repercussions for office gambling and using company time to get in on the March Madness action you should know that there is an upside. All this time spent by workers one March Madness encourages camaraderie between workers and can do a great job of boosting morale.

Try as you may, but it is highly improbable that you can stop the March Madness bug from floating around your workplace - at least not without appearing to posses the iron fist of a cruel dictator . It is inevitable that somebody will be filling out tournament brackets during work hours.

You could monitor worker's online activities and threaten termination for anyone participating in office pools or online tournament brackets to ensure your organization stays productive during the coming weeks. However one must consider the time and effort this would take to enforce, the high costs of employee turnover associated with terminating the offenders, and of course the negative impact this would have on organizational morale.

Given the strong correlation between employee morale and levels of production, customer satisfaction, and firm revenues a better approach would be to actually embrace the phenomena that is March Madness and sponsor an event within your organization.

Sponsoring a March Madness event or tournament poll allows you to control the the "Big Dance" on your terms. Consider using any number of sports sites such as Yahoo! Sports or ESPN to host the tournament bracket for you. This can eliminate much of the time an ambitious employee might spend setting up a bracket on paper and printing it off for others to fill out.

Taking control of the office pool can also go along way in preventing illegal office gambling. While rarely enforced, gambling in the workplace is illegal in most instances and could pose a potential liability to companies that knowingly allow it to take place. Consider offering a small prize such as a college sweater or free round of golf to the winner or top placers in the office pool. Better yet, customize the prizes to show that you care about your team member's personal interests.

Consider using a scheduled break time (usually 15 minutes) twice a week to get together and discuss the tournament pool and how everyone's favorite team is doing is a great way to minimize excess time talking about the tournament. Most organization allow for a 15 minute break in the morning and afternoon that this get-together could easily take the place of. 

Camaraderie can play a huge factor in the effort to retain employees and this is a great way to for team members as they get to know each other by talking about where they went to college, who their favorite teams are, or who the next Lebron James is going to be.  Imagine... marketing and manufacturing discovering that they actually have something in common!

Another way to March Madness and improve morale (without killing productivity) is to designate a day of the week (Fridays are always good) where team members are encouraged to wear ties or sweatshirts supporting their favorite team or alma mater.  Add to this by hosting a pot luck lunch where employees can bring their favorite game day foods to share with others.

What this all boils down to is Employee Morale at your organization. High levels of employee morale have countless benefits including increased employee retention levels, reduced turnover costs, higher levels of productivity, and most importantly increased sales and profits.

It should be no surprise that happy employees stay in their jobs longer, produce more, and drive revenue growth.

There is no secret formula for achieving high levels of morale. Rather it is often the little things that management does that say, "work can be fun" or, "this is a great place to work".  March Madness is just one of these little things. Avoid the temptation to scorn the big tournament as these efforts will probably be ill received and ineffective at best. Instead embrace what make March Madness great - the camaraderie it encourages between people of all backgrounds. I will bet that any lost production will soon be recouped by the positive benefits associated with improved employee morale.

Chris Young


The Rainmaker Group is a human talent maximization company specializing in helping organization maximize their bottom lines by improving employee retention, hiring the best talent possible, and strategic talent management and coaching services. From the Fortune 50 corporation to the small medical office, The Rainmaker Group guarantees lasting organizational change via a unique blend of energy, insight, and science to maximize talent, transform organizational culture, and provide strategic intervention.