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March Madness At Work Might Enhance Workplace Productivity

The most bogus estimate of the year came out last week. You know it well. It’s the one from Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a global outplacement consultancy firm, that estimates how much time the American workforce loses from paying attention to March Madness at work.

This year, the firm estimates that American employees will watch the tournament online for at least 8.4 million hours, which equals more than $192 million in wages. Last year, the firm told the world the number was $1.8 billion, by the way, which goes to show you how unscientific this number is.

The report gets a ton of press, but it’s rarely questioned. The horrible assumption that the firm makes is that it assumes that every minute we are “working,” we are productive, which of course is not true. Every day is filled with moments that we are doing something that our employers technically might not be paying us for.

How much time do we “waste” going to lunch? How much time do we “waste” checking our personal e-mail? Is there anyone in the world who can’t watch the games and work at the same time?

You get my point.

In fact, some think that this wasting of time watching March Madness, filling out brackets and talking about it, can actually add to workplace productivity.

Don Forsyth, a social psychologist who is a professor at University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies, is in that camp. He recently had a workshop with executive leaders who he asked to fill out brackets and said employers could actually learn from how employees fill out their sheet.

“You could tell how each person made decisions, how they exhibited bias, whether their choices were rational or irrational, if they used mathematical analysis or if they picked based on emotion,” Forsyth said.

Forsyth also said that those employers that tell their workers that they can’t fill out brackets are doing a disservice to the office environment.

“It sends the message that they are in control,” Forsyth said. “That actually helps define the culture of a workplace that people don’t want to work in. Showing concern for people’s happiness is important, especially when people aren’t too motivated in March.”

Forsyth also said that the energy and adrenaline a person gets from watching or talking about the tournament can also translate into more energy when focused on work.

Maybe the folks at Challenger, Gray and Christmas should stop wasting their time coming out with this report every year. It’s more of a waste of time than any tournament watching.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com