The Other March Madness: Workplace Distraction


If you think the bubble teams have it tough, what about your poor boss?

As America gears up for March Madness, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas says the financial impact to businesses could be nearly $200 million, the result of workplace distraction during the hoopla.

Extra games and increased accessibility to the wildly popular basketball tournament means workers won't always be focused on their work. Challenger predicts that total online tournament play viewership during work hours is likely to reach at least 8.4 million hours, beginning March 15.

The consultancy multiplied that figure by the average hourly earnings of $22.87 among private sector workers to come up with a potentially financial impact exceeding $192 million.

Challenger came to its estimate using the 2010 March Madness on Demand traffic statistics from CBS’ (NYSE:CBS) service attracted 8.3 million visitors last year, who watched 11.7 million hours of online audio and video.

“At first glance, 8.4 million hours of lost productivity seems like it would deliver a crushing blow to the economy,” said CEO John Challenger. “However, it is important to remember that there are roughly 108.3 million people on private payrolls, each working an average of 34.2 hours per week, according to the latest Labor Department data. So, the total number of hours worked by the American workforce in one week comes to about 3.7 billion hours.”

The company estimates a 20% increase, partly due to CBS Sports expanding its reach this year by providing free mobile applications.

Challenger adds that despite the seemingly large figure, it pales in comparison to the total number of hours that will be worked.

“Over the three weeks of the tournament, the nation’s 108 million workers will have logged more than 11 billion hours of work. The 8.4 million hours lost to March Madness is a relative drop in the bucket, accounting for less than one-tenth of one percent of the total hours American workers will put in over the three weeks of the tournament,” Challenger said.

However, the game-watching spike can negatively impact the work environment in some manner.

“For an office with 50 to 100 workers, five or ten people streaming basketball games will definitely have an impact on everyone’s Internet speed.”

The Challenger CEO offered potential solutions to the distraction.

“Rather than try to squash employee interest in March Madness, companies could try to embrace it as a way to build morale and camaraderie,” he said. “This could means putting televisions in the break room, so employees have somewhere to watch the games other than the Internet. Employers might consider organizing a company-wide pool, which should have no entry fee in order to avoid ethical and/or legal questions.”