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Experts: Embrace March Madness -- but not too much -- to prevent hit to workforce productivity

FARGO—It's a time of year that can make employees a bit mad, but March Madness doesn't have to be a big hit to productivity in the workplace.

A recent report released by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said the 2017 installment of the NCAA men's and women's college basketball tournaments could cost employers more than $600 million as workers spend company time picking teams and keeping up with games.

The firm estimated that 23.7 million workers will fill out brackets for this year's game, based on the employment to population ratio and the fact that more than 40 million Americans overall fill out tournament brackets. Add that to games played during work hours and this year's costs could reach $2.1 billion in lost wages paid to distracted or unproductive workers.

Selection Sunday is just a day away, and the tournament will kick off Tuesday, March 14, and continue through April 3.

But Kyra Kudick said there are some easy steps employers can take to avoid many problems in the office.

The associate editor of J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., a consulting firm headquartered in Neenah, Wis., said it's important to find ways to channel the energy surrounding the tournament into fun team-building opportunities whenever possible.

"It's almost impossible to ignore," she said.

Here are some suggestions to make it through March Madness at work:

Rule reminder

One of the easiest ways to prevent problems is simply to remind employees of corporate rules and policies.

"It is helpful to tell your employees ahead of time what is expected," Kudick said.

It's especially important with internet policies—employees could easily stream games or keep up with the tournament online, but that often runs afoul of internet rules at work—as well as a friendly reminder that they should check on games during their break time, not company time.

Doing this in advance could avoid problems entirely, she said, and it can also make it easier to discipline employees who break the rules.

Have fun

March Madness is great watercooler talk, Kudick said. With so many people watching and so much potential for upsets, it's a compelling event that lasts for several weeks.

Because of that, she recommended having fun with the tournament if it's a good fit for a workplace. For example, arrange a non-cash pool to fill out brackets—offering a cash prize can run afoul of state gambling laws, and bragging rights should be enough motivation, she said.

Or, schedule a casual day for employees to wear colors from their favorite teams.

Be flexible

If an employer already allows employees to work flexible schedules, they should still keep that policy around March Madness season, Kudick said. But it's up to each employer to keep that flexibility in check and ensure enough workers still come in during big games to keep up with the workload.

If a little flexibility isn't possible, she said bosses can still let their employees have some fun by tuning break room TVs to the game so workers can watch their team take on a rival.

Be consistent

It's fine for employers to cut their workers some slack during March Madness, but Kudick said not every company can do that. Even if it is possible, she said it's crucial for businesses to hold everyone to the same standards.

"Be consistent in how you're applying your rules," she said.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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