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KNIGHTLY: Don’t be alarmed if co-worker succumbs to Madness

If you’ve noticed a friend or co-worker succumbing to some sort of Madness this week, do not be alarmed. It will pass.

It’s that time again, when people become completely distracted from their work and follow along new developments on their computers when they should be working.

I’m not talking about the presidential primaries and debates.

What I am referring to is the NCAA basketball tournament, i.e. March Madness.

An estimated 50.5 million American workers, or 20 percent, could participate in office pools this year when they should be spending their time working, according to a report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray &Christmas.

That’s up 5 percentage points from last year and 9 points from 2014.

The report goes on to say the opening week of the tournament could cost employers nearly $4 billion in lost revenue the first week of the tournament, according to the report.

The first week of Madness started Sunday with the “selection show,” when the 68 teams were announced.

There is not the suspense of who will be in the tournament there was even a few years ago.

The growth of sports websites and the increased use of analytics by websites such as kenpom.com has the field largely revealed before the bracket is unveiled on Sunday.

There is suspense with maybe six teams who are jostling for the final couple of the 36 at-large bids available (the first 32 bids are given to teams who won their conference tournament).

After Sunday’s announcement, then begins the serious business of filling out the bracket. Some of that bracket-filling spills over into the workplace.

Then come the games themselves. The tournament started in earnest Thursday at 9:15 a.m. with the first of 16 games.

The final game of the day was scheduled to tip at 6:57 p.m. That is 12 straight hours of lose-and-go-home basketball. That will be repeated today (Friday).

If the employee is scheduled to work the weekend, there are eight more games each day. And watching the games from the workplace has become easier.

Not only are the games broadcast on television, last year every game was streamed online, accessible on computers and mobile devices.

Yes, the games can be watched on iPhones and other smartphones. Nielsen, the company that measures television audiences in the United States, told CNBC that the ease of access made last year’s tournament the most watched in 22 years.

CBS Sports, which owns the television rights, is working with various technology companies such as Apple to broaden the audience even further.

Those hours of the workday used on building brackets or watching games instead of building spreadsheets?

According to the Challenger, Gray &Christmas report, this will cost U.S. employers $1.3 billion an hour.

While employers may lose revenue through reduced productivity, Nevada’s legal sports wagering industry reaps large stacks of cash.

According to my friend Matt Youmans at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, between $130 million and $150 million will be bet in Nevada sports books during the 67-game tournament, which concludes on April 4.

Despite the loss in productivity, Challenger, Gray &Christmas cautions against cracking down on employees during this once-a-year event.

Treat it as a team-building exercise in which the employees may actually want to participate.

“Efforts to suppress the ‘madness’ would most likely result in long-term damage to employee morale, loyalty and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity,” the report said.

All the productivity-lost statistics don’t include college students and younger, or people who are retired or not working, who will spend time absorbed by March Madness.

As for my bracket, I went chalk. I have Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina and Michigan State in the Final Four, with my dad’s alma mater Kansas beating North Carolina.

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times and can be contacted at aknightly@pvtimes.com.

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