March 12, 2018

March Madness in the office could score points with employees

Ellen Ernst Kossek Ellen Ernst Kossek
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is expected to shift the attention of millions of workers this year, whether they’re filling out brackets, paying into office pools or watching matchups on conference room TVs.

On one side of the screen, players display hard work and perseverance on the basketball court; on the other side, however, “March Madness” has become a notorious drain on workplace productivity over the course of the multi-week tournament.

Ellen Ernst Kossek, who researches work-life issues at Purdue University, said managers should strike a balance by recognizing their employees’ interest in the tournament without allowing it to become a significant distraction. By doing so, employers can reap the rewards of a stress-free atmosphere.

''Participating in March Madness is similar to celebrating holidays or birthdays in the office,” said Kossek, Purdue’s Basil S. Turner Professor of Management. “Having some levity in the workplace can help people decompress from stress. Companies should think of methods to encourage the intersection of work and life in a way that benefits everyone.”

A 2017 report by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. estimated 23.7 million American workers fill out brackets and follow the tournament, costing up to $2.1 billion in lost productivity. Businesses can mitigate disturbances by limiting game-watching and sports banter to a conference room so employees uninterested in the tournament can focus, Kossek said.

Even casual observers could glean valuable lessons from the comradery, leadership and sportsmanship displayed on the basketball court – skills that should be applied and encouraged in the workplace, Kossek said.

"Not everyone will relish basketball being brought into the office, but an employer who uses the tournament as a way to discuss teamwork lessons or simply have a good time may find there's a big payoff for business," she said. 

Writer: Joseph Paul, 765-494-9541, 

Source: Ellen Ernst Kossek, 765-494-6852,

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