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March Madness a net distraction at workplaces locally, nationally

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Scott Bachman, a supervisor at Sauder Manufacturing, says he'll sneak a few peeks at the tournament.

Allan Detrich Enlarge

As sales development supervisor at Sauder Manufacturing Co. in Archbold, Scott Bachman works with representatives out in the field, he said, "doing what I can to help them."

For the next three weeks, that very well could include updating them on the scores from the games being played during the annual NCAA college basketball tournament that starts today and kicks off in earnest on Thursday.

Like many workers locally and nationally, Mr. Bachman is participating in a betting pool trying to pick the winners of each round of games during March Madness, as well as the champion. He also plans to tune in on the Internet on his lunch hour, because the first four rounds have games that start as early as 11 a.m. during the workday.

"I'll probably sneak a peek a little later in the afternoon too," said Mr. Bachman.

Such peeks could affect the bottom lines of American companies as much as $890 million over the 16 business days of the tournament, estimated Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a global outplacement firm based in Chicago.

That figure is higher than in previous years because of three Web sites that will provide real-time Internet broadcasts through the round of 16 surviving teams, the firm said.

A 2003 survey by Websense Inc. estimated that college hoops fans spend about 90 minutes a week on college basketball Web sites during March Madness.

Challenger, Gray estimates workers will spend 13 minutes per business day surfing the Web sites until the April 4 championship game.

Each 13 minutes costs employers $3.89 a worker, based on the current average hourly wage of $17.96 for all workers nationwide, according to Challenger, Gray. Multiply $3.89 by an estimated 14.3 million employees who label themselves college hoops fans, and then multiply that by 16 business days of the tournament, and it equals an $890 million drag on the bottom line.

But workers who are big March Madness enthusiasts insist that they get their work done, regardless of whether they take time for a little basketball action.

Swanton resident Sean Hanley, Sr., is a traveling medical technologist who organized a betting pool where he worked during last year's tournament.

"We probably had 50 people in the pool and we all packed into the break room when these games were going on during the day," he said. "If a patient came in, people knew the work needed to be done and someone would get up and go do it because they don't want to ruin it for everyone else."

Mr. Hanley added: "Even the supervisors were in on it. If work had been affected, they would have put the clamps on it, but it was more a camaraderie thing."

Dana Corp. spokesman Gary Corrigan said company policies are not needed to govern workers' behavior during the tournament.

"We're not spending valuable time doing metric studies on productivity levels," said the Toledo company official. "We've got people who are responsible and able to manage their jobs well despite March Madness."

As for Sauder's Mr. Bachman, he taking off Friday for Nashville to watch for the first two rounds of the tournament at a site there. But he said he guesses it will be another basketball tournament that will occupy the minds of fellow workers this week.

"Archbold High School plays its state semifinal game on Friday afternoon, so productivity will probably be down at Sauder because of that tournament," he said.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.

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