March 20, 2015
It’s Madness to Agonize Over “Productivity Lost” to the NCAA Tournament
Now that your March Madness bracket is in shreds, let’s look briefly at the more important leadership issue that will remain long after Kentucky wins the title.
How does your company feel about the threatened loss of productivity from employees paying attention to the NCAA tournament during working hours? After all, many of the games are being played during working hours. If workers block out the games to focus on their work, smartphones and tablets send alerts every time there’s an impending upset. One can watch the games on any connected device. And office pools – official and otherwise, legal and borderline – proliferate.
The madness “is a productivity killer at the office. The lost time employees spend crafting brackets, streaming games or checking scores, could reach $1.9 billion,” reported the Indianapolis Star.
The dollar figure comes from what’s become an annual press release from an outplacement firm that uses the gimmick to get itself in the news. “There are distractions every day at the office,” U.S. News quoted the firm’s CEO saying, “but the first week of the annual men’s college basketball tournament is particularly hazardous to workplace productivity.” Some employee engagement consultancies, the ones who argue your employees are your enemy, quote, tweet, and retweet the number to get some of the attention for themselves.
The math behind the alleged theft of company time is simple, but imprecise. Estimated number of people participating times how much time they are distracted from work times their average hourly wage equals total “lost productivity.”
The first problem with this line of thinking is that it’s outdated. It’s based on an industrial view of humans, that they are machines, robots, whose value is in how many hours of production they produce. The assumptions are widgety.
In some jobs, this still holds. If an employee is processing chicken moving down a conveyor belt, the company is essentially buying that person’s time on station. Same deal if an employee is working the register at a retail store. But few of these people can peel away much time to be watching streaming games or comparing their brackets with everyone else’s.
The jobs that have enough flexibility for a person to be keeping one eye on University of Alabama at Birmingham vs. Iowa State are those that are also most likely to require people get certain things done, regardless of the hours it takes and whether that work happens at the office or at home. An enterprise can’t simply count the work lost to March Madness during the day without also counting the work gained when an employee continues to work that evening at home while sitting in front of the TV keeping an eye on the game, or the weekend and evening hours spent replying to emails that did not get answered during “regular business hours.” By one estimate, 80 percent of employees are spending the equivalent of an extra day a week working for their company during what used to be called “off hours.”
The more fundamental questions are whether a company’s leaders have made work there fulfilling enough that it competes with any potential distraction, and whether those leaders trust the maturity and professionalism of their employees enough to let them make their own best judgments about how closely to follow the games.
If the answers to those questions are iffy, the company has much larger problems than people’s interest in a little college basketball.