March Madness Office Pools: Distraction Or Diversion?
Does anything bring together the workplace like the office pool during March Madness? The annual rite of the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four has a unique way of giving the American workplace a collective pastime as colleagues compete to fill out the most accurate bracket for the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. Indeed, a survey conducted by MSN found that 86 percent of all American workers will devote at least some time during their work hours to the games. (The FBI estimates that Americans illegally bet $2.5 billion on the tournament each year.)
The yearly tradition is largely confined to the virtual water cooler, however, as workers do their best to hide from the boss. But the reality of the new digital workplace, characterized by a remote and flexible environment, means bosses should be less concerned by a little "bracketology," leading observers say.
"The line between work life and home is less clear now," said John Challenger, the CEO of the employment services firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in an interview with AOL Jobs. "Now we measure people on performance and not on hours. If attention is diverted, it doesn't matter if the quality holds up. So it should work both ways for the employer if the worker has to take work home."
Challenger's firm, however, just completed a study that appears to tell a very different story. The firm predicts "that employers will end up paying distracted workers about $175 million over the first two full days of the tournament." That statistic was based on three obviously relevant figures: 2.5 million unique visitors per day visiting websites related to the tournament, each spending an average of 90 minutes watching games, and the average private-sector salary of $23.29 per hour.
And yet, Challenger's firm goes on to describe an apparent contradiction in its release. "March Madness will not even register a blip on the nation's economic radar and even the smallest company will survive the month without any impact on their bottom line." Indeed, the calculation was a "tongue-in-cheek" attempt to empirically demonstrate the flexibility of the modern workplace, Challenger told AOL Jobs; if there's no real impact on the economy, then does any of this bracketology really cut into productivity? "A boss shouldn't necessarily care if an employee is watching the game during work hours," he explained to AOL Jobs.
But the boss might even hope for more than just merely breaking even during March Madness. The nascent field of sports-fan psychology holds that there's more to gain than lose by being a spectator. "We have found that self-esteem does go up and down if your team wins and loses, depending on how closely allied you are," Edward Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, told AOL Jobs. "But while sports fans tend to claim credit for a team's success, saying 'we won' to describe a victory, they tend to distance themselves from a team's failure, saying 'they lost' when describing a defeat."
The sports fan's ability to more closely identify with the team during the good times is only amplified during a competition like the NCAA tournament. With 64 teams in the field, the fan can hitch his wagon to numerous stars, and easily stick it out with the one that proves to be a winner. "For many sports fans, this is the best time of the year," Hirt says. "The brackets' inclusiveness as the thing that everyone can talk about makes it even more appealing, given the rise of a less permanent staff -- as people work remotely and more often on a part-time basis."
And a big emotional payoff from celebrating a sports victory has long been a central tenet of the field. One study that shows that dynamic, conducted by Hirt himself in the 1990s, found that both men and women are more optimistic about their sex appeal after a favored team's victory, according to The New York Times. The confidence also carried over to more cerebral activities, such as the ability to perform in word games and the kind of challenges that might come up at work.
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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