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March Madness at the Office — Good for Productivity?

It’s March Madness and no one braces harder for the madness than your employer.

James Southerland #43 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates with his teammates after a point against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
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James Southerland #43 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates with his teammates after a point against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Unlike the Super Bowl, where there’s one game on a Sunday, there are 67 games in the NCAA men’s college basketball playoffs, many during the day. What’s more, there are more women who follow the madness compared to other sporting events as many remain loyal to their alma mater.

A whopping 86 percentof employees said they plan to follow some of the tournament while at work, according to an early-2012 survey from MSN, and that’s up 5 percent from last year.

Whether it’s filling out your brackets, sneaking a peek at scores or watching a game at work, it can be a real time suck.

But if you’re a boss, remember one thing: Resistance is futile.

Not only do a lot of people have skin in the game, cheering for their college team, but March Madness comes right at the end of winter, when everyone has cabin fever and is looking for a good distraction. Add to that the added strain of the recession — those who still have jobs are likely overworked and underpaid — and you’ve got a perfect storm for March Madness at work. Not to mention a little thing called technology.

“You can’t stop this,” said Michael Crom, the chief learning officer at the Dale Carnegie Institute, a corporate training organization. “You’re living with smartphones and tablets. If people want to, they can tune in.”

March Madness on Demand, the live steaming site for the tournament, even has a “boss button” that turns your screen into a faux spreadsheet or work email. So when the boss comes by it looks like you’re doing work!

Here's the Boss Button in action:

Instead of fighting it, Crom said, bosses should embrace March Madness as a way to boost employee morale and, as a result, productivity.

“There’s a real opportunity here with March Madness,” Crom said. “But the trick is you can’t let it take over the entire day. You have to create balance.”

“Office pools are a good thing. Games on company TVs in lunch rooms, break rooms, etc. — also a good thing. Being able for employees to stream games onto their PC? Not so good,” said Chris Kurpeikis, the vice president of sales for B2B Computer Products, about trying to find the balance for his sales team.

The Dale Carnegie office in Washington, D.C., got out front of the madness by posting the Washington Post’s viewer’s guide to the day’s gameson the company's Facebook page. So instead of having employees sneaking scores and watching clips of games, it’s a one-stop shop and a big time saver. Not to mention, if you’re not that into college basketball but want to be part of the conversation, a quick cheat sheet like that can be a good primer to make you sound smart in the conversation!

Allowing March Madness in the workplace “can build camaraderie. It gives people something in common to talk about and it’s a great opportunity to increase employee engagement by bringing this out into the open,” Crom said.

A recent survey from Quantum Workplaceshowed employee engagement at some of the best companies to work for was at about 67 percent. For other companies, that drops to about 30 percent, Crom said.

So if you can find a common thread like college basketball that gets employees jazzed up, it can be good for morale — and productivity.

“Employee engagement is the secret sauce that separates winners from losers in today’s talent economy,” said Greg Harris, president of Quantum Workplace. “The uptick in engagement is good for individual companies, and it’s good for our overall economy.”

“You’re focusing that energy as opposed to driving it into the ground,” Crom said.

So there you have it, embracing March Madness at the office (within reason) is not only good for productivity, it’s good for the economy!

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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