Employers expect productivity drop during March Madness

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament begins Thursday morning and millions of people will be taking time out of their work day to pay attention to March Madness.

The tournament has extra meaning this year because the Northwestern Wildcats are in the field.

But what does that distraction cost? And how do some get away with it?

There's no shortage of ways to take in March Madness and ways to waste your company's time. Some reasonable estimates have the American economy losing as much as $2.1 billion as we look away from our work to see how our favorite teams and our brackets are doing.

"You know what, I can double task, triple task with the best of them," said Dave Kolzow.

The NCAA website, at no cost, invites you to fill out how you think the tournament will unfold and even offers an auto-pick feature that lets you select your favorites (hello Northwestern) and then fills out the rest. Activities like these, according to employment out-placement consultancy Challenger, Gray and Christmas will cost the economy.

"Most everybody is going to spend at least an hour filling out their bracket, reading about their favorite team, watching the game. ... I think $2.1 billion is a good number," said John Challenger.

The NCAA knows this and offers a boss button on most of its screens to allow amateur prognosticators an escape to a fake spreadsheet.

Experts say wise employers should see that $2.1 billion lost productivity figure as smart investment.

"Workers can easily, compared to other times, go out and get other jobs, so giving them perks that make them want to stay, that make your environment the kind that is one where they are not constantly under pressure, is just good business," Challenger said.

Thursday and Friday, when a dozen games are played during work hours, are expected to be the best - or worst - of times, depending on your perspective. And even if you don't know basketball, the value of a society-wide distraction has universal appeal.

Many of the early round games, though, will require a password through your cable or satellite TV subscription. The television networks no longer offer a standalone subscription you can buy without cable.
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