A guest blog from Kim Harris of TSheets by QuickBooks.

The first NCAA-sponsored men’s basketball championship took place in 1939, back when the tournament consisted of just eight teams. For the title, the University of Oregon Webfoots went head to head with the Ohio State Buckeyes in Evanston, Illinois, taking home the championship trophy with a final score of 46-33.

Back in Oregon, dedicated fans listened to the game via radio, and the city of Eugene threw a massive party in the streets to celebrate the victory. The team put the small college town on the map, and the wild competition, known today as March Madness, was born.

By 1951, the number of teams in the NCAA championship tournament doubled, and by 1985, 64 teams had been invited to play. Today, 68 teams grace the courts in the annual tournament.

It’s possible that fans are even more crazy for NCAA championships now than they used to be, with more teams in the mix and real-time streaming access of the tournament. It’s commonplace to hear March Madness chatter at the job site, see coworkers cheerfully building their brackets, and even tune in on their computers or smartphones while they work.

The excitement is so palpable, in some workplaces, non-basketball fans might see it as a potential distraction from day-to-day duties. But does March Madness really interfere with productivity?

March Madness in the workplace

A recent survey of 200 college basketball fans revealed how they manage to keep up with the tournament while at work and if they think watching negatively impacts their productivity. While about one-third of March Madness fans admit the tournament decreases their productivity, 68 percent of respondents say March Madness has no impact (or it increases) their productivity. But that doesn’t mean they don’t spend time watching. Quite the opposite. Nearly 40 percent of March Madness fans say they tune in continuously during work hours.

Of those who watch March Madness at work, women are more likely to always have it on in the background. However, men are more likely to watch more than four hours while working. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of those who watch the games say they watch in secret.

One in 5 respondents admits they watch March Madness on the toilet, while the same number of fans say they watch in their car. Nearly a quarter of fans who tune in at work say they watch March Madness in meetings, and about 30 percent say they watch the games while working from home.

The research also found some employees will arrange their days around the games, which might explain why the majority say they still feel productive during the workday. One in 5 employees says they work fewer hours during the tournament, while just over that number say they start work early to free up time to cheer on their teams.

The work-basketball balance

The same March Madness survey found over a quarter of employees say their boss has a positive view of March Madness at work, meaning they encourage engagement or watch it with their employees. Nearly 61 percent of employees say their boss takes a neutral position on March Madness at work, while only about 14 percent say their boss is against them watching at work.

With this survey in mind, as an employer, how do you encourage a fun and balanced workplace while also fostering productivity and focus, especially during major sporting events like March Madness?

  1. Watch together.

To ensure your employees aren’t watching in secret — and possibly wasting more time on the clock than you’d otherwise approve of — ask employees if they’d like to watch the games during the workday. Once you’ve gauged interest and allowed your team to be open about their viewing habits during the tournament, you can decide how much time you want to allocate to the games during the day.

  1. Encourage moderation.

If the nature of the job makes it impossible for employees to watch the games while staying productive, set designated game time during which workers can catch up on the games. Encouraging moderation shows you value work-life balance.

  1. Accountability wins.

If it’s possible for your employees to catch all of March Madness (and even have it streaming in the background all day), the only thing that matters is making sure employees are being held accountable for their time and their work. Set the expectations early to ensure your employees know that quality and timely work is still part of the deal.

It’s fun to imagine those early Oregon fans huddled around the radio, listening to the names of their favorite players, maybe even placing bets on the outcome. Although the ways in which we experience the tournament has changed dramatically since the first March Madness took hold of the country, the obsession has clearly held steady.

Author Bio

Kim Harris is a copywriter and blogger based in Boise, Idaho, who has been putting her journalism background to good use telling true stories and helping businesses grow since 2008. When she’s not writing for TSheets by QuickBooks, you’ll find her queuing up entertainment and plotting her next escape.