United States: March Madness And Employee Morale: Five Questions And Answers On The Tournament Effect

As the 2018 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Men's Basketball Tournament marches with madness to its Final Four weekend in San Antonio, Texas, where a season's champion will be crowned, most fans are finally settling down from the tumult of two weeks of buzzer beaters, bracket-busting upsets, and office pool politics. In the aftermath of four rounds of tournament play and office pool competition—with two more rounds to go—enduring questions remain: Is workplace betting on tournament games inevitable? Are tournament office pools good for employee productivity and morale? How can managers handle employee rivalries engendered by the tournament? Below are answers to some timely questions.

Q. What should managers do during March Madness to try and keep productivity up without hurting morale?

While it is good to know and stick to your company's policy on the use of smartphones, tablets, and good old-fashioned internet streaming websites, there is probably no way to completely eliminate their use for non-work related activities. Folks are going to want to "multi-task" and watch a particular game while they "work," and find a way to do it. Managers should review how they handled such use in the past and try to maintain the same level of oversight. Know your company's stance on office pools and stick to it. Also, managers should think twice about officially sanctioning any pool. You don't want to give law enforcement any reason to start interviewing the CEO regarding company-sponsored betting. On the positive side, you could

  • devote the break room television to the games;
  • allow employees to wear clothing or pins displaying their favorite teams, colleges, or mascots; and
  • organize a dry March Madness party around your local team's game.

Q. What kind of tournament trash talk might run afoul of employment laws and how should managers be trained to end it?

Anytime emotions run high, communication filters start to malfunction. "Trash talk" (read: unflattering, derogatory, or teasing talk) could be utilized to show some type of discriminatory intent or predilection on the part of an employee who is charged with discriminating or retaliating against, or harassing another employee. The "madness of March" is not an excuse to forget one's manners; the requirements of being respectful and kind to your coworkers applies to all communication in workplace—even basketball discussions.

Q. What kinds of prizes might be problematic with March Madness pools? And why might entry fees be problematic?

Federal law and most state laws prohibit gambling on amateur sports. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, for example, prohibits gambling on sports in most states. In addition, the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 has been interpreted to prohibit online betting. And the NCAA opposes even the "harmless small-dollar bracket office pool." An entry fee offering the chance of winning even a portion of the pool will likely qualify as "gambling."

Q. How can employers lessen employees' temptation to stream games and what kind of drag does streaming have on employers' computer systems?

As stated above, put a television in the break room for watching games. Cater an office meal to bring everyone together for free food and to watch the coverage of the games.

Q. What's the big picture here?

Activities, such as March Madness office pools, can have the effect of improving workplace morale and boosting productivity. While employers should not officially sanction office pools (they are illegal, after all), it is very unlikely that federal or state authorities will come knocking to break up an office pool.

It is doubtful that you will be able to totally eliminate the use of personal electronic equipment or computers for the purpose of watching or tracking games, so give employees other ways of watching.

Finally, if you keep a lid on the behavior, try not to let tournament tracking get out of hand, but give employees outlets to enjoy the games and festivities. You might just engender a morale and productivity boost—at least while their teams are still in the hunt.

A version of this article first appeared on SHRM Online.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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