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, CBSsports.com 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. CBSsports.com’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!