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NCAA Tournament 2012 means distracted workers. What's an employer to do?

The first two days of NCAA Tournament 2012 mean productivity losses worth $175 million, by one estimate. Some employers grin and bear it, while others warn workers against watching on the sly.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / March 13, 2012

Vanderbilt fans cheer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the championship game of the 2012 Southeastern Conference tournament at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Sunday, March 11.

Dave Martin/AP


New York

North Carolina State alum Jason Philbeck knows what he will be doing Friday afternoon: taking that time off from work to watch his team play San Diego State University as part of NCAA Tournament 2012.

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“This is the first time in six years they are back in the tournament,” says Mr. Philbeck who plans to head for a sports bar with some friends. “You have to take the opportunity to cheer them on.”

Mr. Philbeck, who works for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, is part of a big crowd.

As March Madness kicks off Tuesday with Western Kentucky playing Mississippi Valley State University, millions of fans will be trying to figure out ways they can watch their teams and still keep their employers happy. According some employment specialists, the next two or three weeks often rank low for productivity, as employees either keep one eye on the scoreboard or just try to cope with less sleep. Even leading up to the second round, which starts Thursday, many employees spend a lot of company time “researching” teams to compete in their office pools or in "bracketology" showdowns online.

“I can’t think of an external event that draws more people’s attention during the workday like the NCAA Tournament does in the US,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm. “The Super Bowl, the Olympics don’t compare to this.”

The ubiquitous even has a video on how to watch March Madness at work without getting caught. One tip: Schedule early-morning meetings to free up basketball time in the afternoon. “Just remember to keep a low profile,” it warns.

Online viewing of March Madness could add up to more than 2.5 million unique visitors a day, each spending an average of 90 minutes watching games, Mr. Challenger estimates, using last year's numbers as a guide. In 2011, 20 percent of all workers, or some 30 million Americans, participated in an office pool to pick the Final Four, according to Harris Interactive. Challenger, partly tongue-in-cheek, estimates that workers distracted by March Madness will cost employers about $175 million in work left undone, over just the first two days of the tournament.

One reason Challenger's calculation might be on the conservative side is the shift in technology. Five years ago, most office workers could watch games only on television or perhaps on their desktop computers. Today, workers can use their smart phones to monitor scores or even to watch live streaming video, if they subscribe to that. 


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