The Madness of March

How March Madness Affects Business Culture | By: Kristen Haldeman | March 26, 2019

In the 2019 March Madness season it was estimated that $4 billion was lost due to unproductive workers. Certainly the 1 in 5 workers who take no interest in work during this month contributed to that number - totaling $134 million in “lost wages”. Whether a college basketball fanatic or not, a total of 70 million brackets were completed in 2017. March Madness reports as the greatest workplace distraction, only surpassed by Facebook and texting.

With such a drastic decline in quantitative productivity, it would seem that managers would want to discourage logging into the NCAA bracket pools. Such division between the workers and managers could cause workplace negativity and hostility, especially if one’s bracket is doing better than the other’s.

However, an OfficeTeam survey concluded that the March Madness investment may not be so detrimental after all.

After interviewing 1,000 managers, Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, found that 20% viewed the basketball tournament actually promoted a positive workplace atmosphere. He says, When enjoyed in moderation, there are potential benefits to March Madness activities at work. They can be a morale-booster and bring out team spirit in the office. It provides an opportunity for employees to bond as they talk about scores and root for their favorite schools.”

Similarly, when employees are open about their use and manager permit the coworker competition, the culture in the office becomes friendly and positive. When the supervisor gets involved it promotes camaraderie and motivation increase. A study shows that hat it gave opportunity for office outings that would not have happened otherwise.

The phenomena of workplace cohesion due to a unifying source should not come as a surprise. Almost 150 years ago, American philosopher and sociologist George Herbert Mead proposed the theory that there are three cores around which an organization can unify: meaning, language and thought.

Meaning: The coaster of a bar in California that everyone has in their office reminds the employees of the trip to the west coast they took two years ago when Jim, Terry, and Sam got drunk and sang “Sweet Caroline” from the balcony at 3am.

Language: Last month, the new intern tripped over a pushed out chair flinging his cherry jelly donut into the air ill-fatedly landing on the boss’s white button down leaving a perfect ring of sugary stain. Now, whenever someone says “Ringer,” it means someone did something clumsy that resulting in an unfortunate consequence.

Thought: The NCAA tournament provides an opportunity for workplace camaraderie and positive competition by decorating the bulletin board in a giant bracket and the winner receives a gift from everyone in the office, and bragging rights of course.

As illustrated, the unifying core can represent a myriad of examples. What is not different is that each brings the office together to promote a positive workplace atmosphere. Stories may change and there may be moments of negativity. Interacting with a unifying symbol encourages employee morale that results in higher performance.

The key is that the managers and employees are on the same page with whatever the symbol is and represents. If the employees see the NCAA tournament as a time for friendly rivalry while the manager views it as unproductive, a disruptive work environment will likely arise. However, if the manager is on board with some fun contests, the month of March may not be so mad.

What stories or symbols does your office connect with? Are they atmosphere encouraging or discouraging?

Michelle Martinez