Working around college hoops fun but no productive

If research is to be believed, fan devotion to March Madness could cost employers at least $3.8 billion in lost productivity, as workers slip away to check NCAA Tournament scores, participate in office pools, read stories about the contests, or watch free streaming videocasts of games on their office computers.

Hold that thought. I?ve got to check the KU-Portland State score.

I?m back. Looks like the Jayhawks have it wrapped up without breaking a sweat.

But I digress. Many prominent newspapers publicized the $3.8 billion estimate contained in a press release by consultant John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray and Christmas a few years ago.

A 2005 Gallup poll indicated that 41 percent of Americans are fans of college basketball. Based on a total national labor force of 142.8 million, that pegs the number of college-hoops lovers in the workplace at about 58.5 million people, according to Challenger.

He based his lost productivity results on an average of $18 an hour and 58 million college basketball fans spending 13.5 minutes online for each of the 16 business days from the first day of the tournament to the day of the championship game.

What may be most alarming is that Challenger believes the $3.8 billion estimate might be conservative.

?The cost may end up being much higher, since it will now be possible to watch entire games on the Internet,? he said in a release.

What a shocking waste of workplace productivity. Wait a second. I need to check the score of the Georgia and Xavier game before continuing this column.

That was quite a game.

Anyway, it?s appalling that so much time is wasted at work.

Put another way, for every 13.5 minutes basketball fans spent during work hours watching the Jayhawks beat up on hapless 16-seed Portland State, the nation?s employers sacrificed a combined $237 million in wages.

But not even Challenger opposes March Madness. In fact, he urges companies to embrace the tournament as a bonding tool to foster camaraderie in a corporate environment rife with temporary workers, short-term careerists and near-constant business travel.

I?ll be back. I need to check on the progress of the Michigan State game.

For future reference, if you have a boss who suspects you are watching a live videocast on your computer, click the link at the bottom of the screen that says ?boss.? A working document with some tables magically appears on your screen. Cool, huh?

In any case, some believe the study may be flawed. For one thing, the size of the dedicated college hoops audience may be high. In 2005, the NCAA championship game drew only 23.1 million households, according to Nielsen.

Jack Shafer, editor-at-large at Slate, writes, ?Challenger doesn?t acknowledge that ?wasted time? is built into every workday.

?Workers routinely shop during office hours, take extended coffee breaks, talk to friends on the phone, enjoy long lunches or gossip around the water cooler. It?s likely that NCAA tourney fans merely reallocate to the games the time they ordinarily waste elsewhere.

?Likewise, many office workers who don?t complete their tasks by the end of the day stay late or take work home. If fans who screw off at work ultimately do their work at home, the alleged ?loss? to productivity would be a wash.?

Finally, most games in the NCAA Tournament are played in the evening or weekends when very few employees are in the office. Only about one-third of the games are played during an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.

Here?s the bottom line: Very little productivity is lost during March Madness.

Hold it. I?m going to check the progress of the K-State game. Looks like the Wildcats will send USC packing.

Hey, March Madness devotees can?t let a little work get in the way of some fun, right?

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