Does March Madness Always Have to Mean Workplace Madness?

We all have our passions, and sometimes they can get away from us.

When I was in college, I launched a business that consumed so much of my time that it took me three extra years to graduate. I’m thrilled with the outcome, but it doesn’t always pay to get carried away.

We’ve all had employees whose personal passions sometimes interfere with their passion for work. Whether it’s fine wine or video games, fast driving or family, the distractions are typically minor and rarely make a major impact on an employee’s work.

But what happens when a passion is so all-consuming, so pervasive, and so condensed into just a few weeks, that it’s literally all some people can think about? For many Americans, that’s what happens during March Madness.

We’re in the thick of the annual NCAA basketball championships, with just 16 teams left in the men’s tournament. If the intensity is building in your office, it’s time to consider what is a reasonable level of accommodation.

Do you give everyone extra leave time? Throw a party? Leave a TV on in the office? In the break room? In the bathroom?

When it comes to office pools and other “distractions,” there are two “pools” of thought:

Embrace the Enthusiasm: It’s all about Engagement

Shared activities — even when they’re not directly work-related — help employees build relationships and get to know each other better, which promotes teamwork and collaboration in everything else they do. Better still, breaking up the day with relaxing or distracting activities can greatly improve focus when it’s time to get back to work, which ultimately increases productivity.

Keep in mind that passion is as much a personality trait as it is an expression of interest in something. Your March Madness pool can help you to reveal the top talent that is enthusiastic about everything they get involved in, whether it’s gambling on college basketball, talking to customers, or crunching numbers.

Finally, remember that employees who incorporate parts of their job into their sense of self tend to be more engaged in their work, and have longer tenures at your business. A March Madness pool could very well help to cut your turnover rates.

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Don’t dump Dedication: Destroy the Distraction

On the flip-side, sports don’t appeal to everyone. A basketball pool could scare away or alienate your football fans, figure skaters, art lovers, and sport-avoiders.

Worse yet, you may find that team allegiances start to break down your company unity, as your organization’s own Spartans and Wolverines start to get at each other’s throats.

And don’t forget about the gambling component. Even if it’s only $5 bucks to participate, that can be morally upsetting for some employees, and upsetting to the wallets of many others. Plus, depending on your jurisdiction, company-sponsored events that involve gambling could put you in hot water.

Downplaying major sporting events in your workspace helps to eliminate these risks, and doesn’t stop your employees from enjoying them at home.

How to place your bet

In the end, you need to decide where to draw the line when it comes to betting pools and sporting celebrations. There are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Location — If your office is geographically beyond the area of cultural significance for the event, you’re more likely to be able to safely avoid it. In San Antonio? You can pass on the Cricket World Cup. In Syracuse? You’ll have a tough time avoiding March Madness.
  2. Demographics — Take an honest look at your team. On the weekend, will the bulk of them be at the gym or at the coffee shop? If sports aren’t in your company culture, don’t force them to be.
  3. Champions — Ultimately, any company celebration requires planning. Is someone willing to take that on? How committed are they? If Jimmy looks forward to organizing the office pool every year, try not to crush his dreams. But if it’s an idea that got pitched that no one is willing to pursue, save your employee goodwill for more important tasks.

No matter what you do, as long as it’s a well-reasoned and well-communicated decision, if you stick to your guns, it’s sure to be a slam dunk.