Before you fill out that March Madness bracket…

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Few things unite co-workers like a good, old-fashioned office pool. Can you pick the date Ellen will have her baby? What about the baby’s sex and name? How many days in a row will Bob wear the same pants? How long can Fred go without checking his smart phone in a meeting?

It seems workers will bet on everything and anything – even when a large pile of snow in the parking lot would melt and what co-workers’ cholesterol numbers would be.

Yet nothing causes quite the betting frenzy at work more than March Madness. Workers across the country are researching stats, crunching numbers and calling their ESPN-addicted cousins in order to fill out their March Madness brackets. Let’s look at the numbers.

A survey from Spherion found 45 percent of workers have participated in an office pool before, and 56 percent of those who have participated specifically took part in March Madness pools. And in 2009, a Microsoft estimated that 58 million people — many at work and on the clock — will fill out tournament brackets.

Consider the time used for watching the free streaming of all 64 games and the subsequent discussion of those games. During the 2009 NCAA Tournament, reported that there were 7.52 million unique visitors to the NCAA March Madness on Demand video player, a 58 percent  increase over 2008 figures. Additionally, there were 8.6 million total hours of video and audio consumed, a 75 percent increase over 2008 figures. Experts predict the estimated cost of the lost productivity during March Madness is $1.8 billion.

But with the American work force increasing its productivity year after year, the time spent viewing video online or filling out your brackets might not be necessarily frowned upon by management.’s “Boss Button” received 2.77 million clicks in 2009 compared to 2.5 million in 2008 — not quite on par the with staggering increases in traffic and viewed video.

Office Team recently asked more than 1,000 managers whether March Madness activities, such as watching game highlights or engaging in friendly competitions, affect morale and productivity. Forty-one percent of those surveyed felt the college basketball playoffs have a positive effect on employee morale. The majority (56 percent) also said March Madness activities do not impact productivity and 22 percent of respondents believed the festivities actually boost workers’ output.

Unless the company has rules against gambling, your office pool is harmless. In the Spherion study, 49 percent of workers say their employer doesn’t have an office pool policy, and another 37 percent of workers don’t know if an office pool policy exists at their company.Yet, according to another recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 23 percent of employers have a written policy regarding gambling, and an additional 10 percent have an unwritten or understood policy, This figure might not sound significant, but in 2006 only 14 percent had a written policy and 7 percent had an unwritten policy, suggesting companies are watching workplace betting more than they used to.

Companies who do have policies regarding gambling (and yes, putting money on March Madness counts) say the following:

  • 83 percent prohibit any form of gambling on company premises
  • 72 percent will take disciplinary action (not including termination) for violating the  policy
  • 70 percent prohibit gambling where money is exchanged
  • 67 percent have provisions for termination if the gambling policy is violated

So go ahead and fill out your bracket if you want, but don’t let it affect your productivity and don’t give your employer a reason to institute a policy against pools if none exists. Before you let March Madness overtake you, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Do your research and strategizing on your own time.
    Don’t waste hours of your company’s time putting player stats in a spreadsheet when you should be doing your job.
  • Check the rules
    Even if you’re pretty sure no rules exist about betting, you should double check. Maybe you can bet but you can’t put money on it. Better to be informed than surprised by an angry boss or HR person.
  • Remember, it’s all fun
    Don’t get so enthralled by the competition that you end up yelling at a co-worker or throwing your coffee mug against the wall. No one will like you, you could get fired and you’ve probably ruined office pools for everyone else, too.
  • Don’t force people to play
    Office pools are fun. At least they should be. When an overzealous organizer is going up to each person and giving them a version of LBJ’s Treatment just to pressure them into participating, the fun is gone. Some people just don’t care about the pool, so let them sit it out.

That said, good luck!

  1. Who does everyone have in their brackets this year to make 
it to the final four?? WIth so many changes through-out the 
Top 10, Top 25 and even the #1 seed in the nation anything 
is possible.. I can’t wait for the madness to begin!!! So 

    My Final Four:






    KANSAS winning it all… 

    For a full bracket with predictions click

    So who do you have? Who is your final four?

  2. Why don’t the Federal Gov. Mandate to the States to shut down while this circus goes on like the Federal Gov. thinks it can mandate everything else!

  3. What a sensible and encouraging article–two thumbs up! With that said, aside from the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team, who remain undefeated this season, picking one–let alone four–participants in the men’s Final Four won’t be easy to predict…Good Luck everyone!

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  4. Let me blow your mind!

    Michigan St. is gonna suprise and shock as they make it into the sweet 16 and go on to the final 4 after upsetting the #1 Kansas and then defeating the #6 Tennessee.

    #2 Kansas St is gonna take the West Division and be in the final 4.

    And rounding out the final 4 are Kentucky and Villanova

    Michigan St. couldn’t continue their lucky win streak and was knocked out to Kansas St. Kansas St. would be moving on to the finals!

    Kentucky continues to dominate and knocks Villanova out to move on to the finals themselves!

    It is a good finals game, but in the end Kansas St. was no match to Kentucky. Kentucky wins it all after a 71-65 win over Kansas St!!!!


  5. I think thyeshould not be allowed to broadcast the games over the internet and if it is still a big enough distraction get rid of March Madness all together. Don’t get me wrong but at a time with the economy the way it is currently there are serveral companys who need to get the most out of there employees hours not having them watch pointless (untill the final four anyway ) basketball games…

    I have the same 4 with Kentucky winning :)

  6. I don’t know what kind of companies or the type of managers this places have, but a have never seen a company produtivity go down or employee’s getting anything done during any march maddness or even during football season. any manager or supsrvisor involve in any illegal gambeling in any office should be terminated or replace. this does not show any good leadership at all. besides you wonder why this country is in the posiyion that we are today. sports come first. oriorities at the work place. how sad an immature.

  7. at the brokerage firm i used to work for, brokers would put games on the presentation screen in the big meeting room if it wasn’t being used for anything else. no one really sat in the room for very long– just would poke their heads in for a few minutes. management never cared so long as the work kept getting done. hey, a happy workplace is a productive workplace.

  8. This story is not news to anyone in the workforce and is actually hilarious. Our illustrious “commander-in-chief” apparently has time to fill out his bracket and also make a big scene about it on the national news. If it’s good enough for The Great One……good grief! ps; have multiple brackets and the final four is pretty relative to everyone else’s. BUT, I’ll go out on a limb here and Pick Murray State as a sweet 16 Cinderella. Bold huh?

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