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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Brackets foul up workplace, study says

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

March Madness begins in earnest Thursday, and for many employers the start of the NCAA basketball tournament will not be awesome, baby.

According to a report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the tournament will be responsible for millions of hours of lost or diminished productivity over the next few weeks as workers take time from their jobs to watch games online, check scores, or manage their office pool brackets.

Challenger, based in Chicago, acknowledged its study of the topic "gives legitimate scientific studies a bad name." But the firm said that based on data it accumulated last year, the NCAA tournament likely will attract 2.5 million online visitors daily spending an average of 90 minutes either watching games or checking scores.

Because private workers are paid an average of $23.29 per hour, the distraction could total about $175 million over Thursday and Friday -- the first two full days of the tournament. Two play-in games were held Tuesday and two more will take place Wednesday night.

John Challenger, chief executive officer of the outplacement firm, said even without games being played, "cyberloafing" -- a term to describe using a work Internet connection for personal reasons -- probably was robust between Monday and Tuesday as workers used the Internet to research NCAA basketball teams to fill out their brackets.

However, Mr. Challenger said that in the larger scheme, the March Madness distractions are only a micro-level annoyance for most employers.

"Certainly statisticians, economists, academia, and college basketball fans will likely scoff at our estimate, and rightfully so," Mr. Challenger said. "It is to be taken with a grain of salt, as it is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek look at how technology continues to blur the line between our professional and personal lives.

"Ultimately, March Madness will not even register a blip on the nation's economic radar and even the smallest company will survive the month without any impact on their bottom line," he said.

Mike Hart, president of Maumee marketing firm Hart Inc., believes if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. His firm has been accepting of March Madness in the workplace "since I can remember," he said.

"I think we've got 50 responsible, professional people that work here and they're people that work very hard. So we're open to people working responsibly and people taking a step back every now and then and taking a peek at espn.com as well to check the scores," Mr. Hart said.

Mr. Hart said he even has participated in the office NCAA bracket pool for years. "I've never been fortunate enough to win the darn thing, so nobody's ever accused the contest of favoring the boss. I'm an awful picker," Mr. Hart said.

The Brooks Insurance Agency in Toledo also has a policy of tolerance … within limits.

The company limits Internet use during the work period but frees it up over the lunch hour and usually tunes a TV in the employee lunch room to the games during the tournament, chief financial officer Kathy Mikolajczak said.

As for an office bracket pool, "well, I know there are things like that, but I don't usually get asked to participate," Ms. Mikolajczak said. "But if there is one, they usually tell me immediately about it."

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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