Bet against unproductivity

With the start of spring, and the NCAA basketball tournament, comes the annual scolding articles about the billions businesses lose every year due to “lost productivity.” For example, Challenger, Gray &Christmas, a Chicago-based global outplacement firm (a what?), estimates companies stand to lose about $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the tournament’s first week.

The company based its estimate on a 2009 survey that suggested 50 million people participate in office pools every year in the United States, the Chicago Tribune reported. If each of those workers spends just one hour filling out their bracket or following a game online, it would cost companies $1.2 billion based on the average hourly earnings of $24.31 reported in the most recent employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Luckily, more people and workplaces are challenging such far-fetched estimates of lost productivity, or ignoring them. Businesses are moving from efforts to ban the tournament from the workplace, to embracing it — with running office pools, ordering pizza, and allowing for some TV viewing time — because it boosts morale. Ellen E. Kossek, the Basil S. Turner professor of management at Purdue University, said employers can draw several parallels between the game action and what they would like to see in the office, The Elkhart Truth of Indiana reported. There is teamwork, lessons in leadership, quickly turning changes in fortune, ethics lessons and more.

Charles Clotfelter, a professor at Duke University and author of “Big-Time Sports in American Universities,” wrote in 2012 that “the tournament has a profound and widespread impact on patterns of work” (he studied how often faculty and students view academic journal libraries at 75 different university libraries during the tournament) but wouldn’t claim that these effects had a big impact on productivity, The Washington Post reported. Basically, he found, employees learn to budget their time, making sure to do their work and leave enough time to watch their teams play.

So in other words, people who work in offices — as opposed to factories — learn how to budget their time to get their work done and be able to watch their team play. It’s likely that office workers, (even those at Challenger, Gray &Christmas) practice this type of time-budgeting all year long, not just at tourney time. It’s just that at this time of year, more people are focused on the same thing that happens not to be their work. (Same with Christmas and other major holidays.)

But hey, you only make headlines, (and annual free publicity for your company!) when you “Go Big,” like Challenger, Gray &Christmas does, and issue a billions-upon-billions dire economical estimate. It’s their patented game strategy.

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