To many area business executives, March Madness is when they remind employees to keep the monitoring of college basketball games to a minimum during work hours.
That is, unless they oversee a local restaurant or bar that is generally crowded, as customers monitor whether the team they picked in their $5 office pool won.
This year, Paul Mandell did something different at 50-employee Bethesda executive events company Consero Group. He paired employees up. The teams are competing against others in a March Madness-like bracket, as they earn points based on completing certain work duties.
“It’s very easy to get distracted during this time of year and not get your work done,” said Mandell, CEO and co-founder of the company, which doubled revenues to $4 million last year.
The first two days of March Madness on Thursday and Friday were expected to cost U.S. companies at least $134 million in lost productivity, as some three million employees nationally spend as many as three hours each day watching the games, according to a survey by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
At Consero, employees are paired with others from different departments for the work competition. Salespeople get points not just for making sales, but demonstrating hard work in an attempt, Mandell said. Events organizers can get points for landing a new speaker.
“There are different metrics for those in different departments,” Mandell said.
The competition has helped keep employees focused on work, as well as improved company spirit and collaboration between those in various departments, he said. Consero, which formed about three years ago, has added 15 to 20 people in the past year, mostly hiring locally in Montgomery County, Mandell said.
“If you get creative, you can use March Madness to your advantage,” Mandell said.
As a percentage of the overall U.S. economic activity, the $134 million impact is not as much of a blip, with sequestration having a far greater impact, John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.
But there is an impact on the “flow” of work with a drop in Internet speeds as employees clog networks’ bandwidth, he noted. While that can affect workplace productivity, many workers can work from anywhere and will get their work done before or after tournament games to make up for the slowdowns during games, Challenger said.
“In the end, March Madness will have little, if any, impact on employers,” he said.
Rose Financial Services, a 40-employee financial and accounting outsourcing firm in Rockville, has a television in its café, where employees can monitor games during breaks and lunches.
“We know people want to keep track of their brackets, so this is a way we can encourage them to do so during their breaks,” said Ted Rose, president and CEO.
A University of Maryland alum, Rose is monitoring the Terrapins, which won their first two games in the NIT, a second-tier tournament, and are scheduled to play Alabama in the next round Tuesday evening. Maryland last played in the “Big Dance” in 2010 and won it all in 2002.
“It was disappointing not to get into the main tournament this year,” Rose said. “But if we win the NIT, that is still a big accomplishment.”
Like many companies, Rose Financial has an office pool that attracts a good level of participation from employees and their family members. Some 45 percent of workers nationwide have participated in office pools involving the NCAA tournaments, Super Bowl and other events, according to a survey by Monster.com on behalf of Spherion Staffing Services.
Companies also can use March Madness year-round to emulate how the NCAA selection committee uses specific criteria to choose teams, Rose said. Businesses should make sure they are closely monitoring their own key performance indicators, such as the amount of profit per customer or gross margin by product line, throughout the year to ensure they meet long-term goals, he said.
“This way, managers can get a visual interpretation of how their company is doing,” Rose said.