At Danberry Co.'s Westgate office this week, amid the listing and selling and negotiating is another annual activity as predictable as the spring thaw in Toledo's real estate market. It is an office pool on the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
As staff will in other workplaces across the country, agents and office workers will sit down early this week and make 63 guesses on a computer screen, throw in $10, and hope they get lucky.
Despite studies that show such pools drain worker productivity, tax Web resources, and cost businesses billions of dollars, Danberry Chief Executive Officer Lynn Fruth will be among those filling out a bracket.
"It's not an officially sanctioned thing," Mr. Fruth said of the annual office pool, "but we think those kinds of things can be positive team-building efforts."
The tournament match-ups were selected Sunday night, and the games involving 65 college teams begin tomorrow and last almost three weeks.
Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based global outplacement consultant, estimates that just the first week of the annual "March Madness" college basketball tournament would cost employers as much as $1.8 billion in lost productivity.
The annual study relied on a Microsoft/MSN survey indicating 45 percent of Americans planned to enter at least one college basketball pool.
"Some have tried to squash these [office] pools, most simply ignore them, and others have found ways to embrace the tournament as a team-building and morale-boosting opportunity," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray.
The tournament is the annual event that generates the second-largest amount of workplace gambling activity, trailing only the National Football League's Super Bowl, according to an annual survey of its members by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Its survey found that a majority of its respondents believed the annual office pools increased employee morale, while only a small number of employers believed the pools harmed morale or teamwork. Just 1 percent of respondents found that participation in office pools increased productivity, however.
The tournament can drain precious Internet resources. The first two days of games last year were among the five busiest for Internet traffic, bested only by the online shopping done on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, according to West Coast broadband provider Integra Telecom Inc.
Trends locally are the same, said Kevid David, president of Internet service provider Toast.net.
"We do see a spike in streaming once the games start," Mr. David said. "It's definitely noticeable."
For employers such as Mr. Fruth, the bandwidth is something to monitor, especially if it starts to affect business.
"I have seen studies that indicate that if people are watching games within your bandwidth, it can slow down the system. Not something that was obvious last year, but we're going to monitor it," the Danberry CEO said.
The human resources group's survey also focused on how employers deal with one aspect of the office pool: gambling.
It found that two-thirds of employers do not have a formal or informal policy prohibiting gambling in the workplace.
Of those with a policy, 94 percent had neither disciplined nor terminated an employee in the last 12 months.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:
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