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That's Madness! Watching Basketball At Work Could Increase Productivity

Kate Ter Haar

It’s the middle of the workday, and Chumley’s bar in downtown Lafayette is packed with people watching the NCAA tourney. They’re wearing work clothes—not jerseys.

Checkered sportscoat-clad lawyer (and Cincinnati fan) Jim Olds ducked out of the office to check in on the Butler-Texas Tech game.

“We’re sneaking away on the lunch hour to watch some games,” he says of himself and his lunch companion. “We won’t have any public displays in the office, but I have a feeling there will be a number of people probably watching on their computers.”

Each year business consultants estimate billions of dollars in productivity is lost thanks to workers sneaking out to watch games or covertly checking scores on their computers during March Madness.

But Ellen Kossek of Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management says people are going to watch regardless—and employers might as well take advantage of what the tournament can offer.

“We know many people are going to sneak and look at the scores anyway so how much productivity is going to get done?” she asks. “You might as well make it a good time for all.”

She says workplaces encouraging participation can reap lots of benefits, such as decreased stress and increased teamwork, and basketball in particular can offer great lessons.

“In basketball the tempo changes quickly, sometimes there are things you can’t control, sometimes your best player gets hurt, so how do you have resilience to overcome that…Sometimes the game hero isn’t the top scorer,” she says. “So just like in basketball, in business or in nonprofits you learn you can’t win the game trying to score all the baskets by yourself.”

She says it’s also an interest lots of people have in common. It’s completely secular, and lots of people can root for their alma mater-Kossek says that leads to more camaraderie than, say, an Academy Awards pool or a Christmas party.

Kossek says she doesn’t necessarily recommend businesses throw in the towel for the entire tournament, but setting aside certain times for employees to watch the game together can be beneficial to everyone…particularly the people who don’t have to spend time worrying about how to extend their lunch hours to go to the sports bar.

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