NCAA March Madness to cost employers $13.3B in lost productivity, firm says

Office workers spending work hours glued to their March Madness brackets or NCAA basketball tournament streams will cost U.S. employers billions of dollars in lost productivity, but staffing firms say the annual tradition also carries some benefits in the workplace.

Based on current private wage and employment levels, as well as estimates that 75 million American workers will spend about six hours of work time on March Madness-related activities during the tournament, U.S. employers stand to lose about $13.3 billion in productivity during this year’s tournament, according to calculations by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The steep estimates are at least partially due to low unemployment and a rise in hourly wages. Despite the multi-billion dollar price tag, Challenger advises companies to embrace March Madness as a means of boosting office morale, rather than cracking down on the pastime.

“The tournament is a perfect opportunity for colleagues to bond in the workplace. Any attempt to keep workers from the games would most likely result in real damage to employee morale, loyalty, and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity,” said Andrew Challenger, a vice president at the firm.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas based its projections on data compiled by the staffing firm Office Team, which found that the average U.S. worker spends 25.5 minutes per work day during the tournament on NCAA brackets, conversations with coworkers and other distractions. A separate 2018 survey by TSheets found that 48 percent of American workers, or about 75 million, filled out their brackets while on the clock.

The rise of streaming services has made it easier than ever for workers to sneak a peek at the NCAA tournament during office hours. This year, the NCAA is offering live streams of all 67 men’s tournament games on 17 different platforms, more than ever before. Roughly 97 million viewers watched March Madness games in 2018, according to broadcast partner CBS.


Still, lost productivity isn’t necessarily a total negative for U.S. employers. A 2018 report by Kimble Applications found that 54 percent of American employees saw March Madness pools and other sports competitions as a positive influence on workplace culture. At the same time, 13 percent of respondents said they felt pressured to participate by their coworkers.