Billions of dollars lost due to March Madness

Wisconsin Badgers fans
Streeter Lecka | Getty Images

As March Madness arrives, distracted workers around the country will be paying more attention to their brackets than their work, according to a report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The firm estimates that more than 50.5 million American workers, or 20 percent, could participate in office pools this year. That's up 5 percentage points from last year and 9 points from 2014.

The loss of productivity in the opening week of March Madness could cost employers nearly $4 billion in lost revenue, according to the report. And each hour of the workday wasted on building brackets or watching games will cost employers $1.3 billion.

Charles Barkley
Barkley and other NBAers talk madness: Politics, economy
Grant Hill
Money mistakes: What these NBA standouts learned

Last year March Madness, which is broadcast on television and streamed online and on mobile, set viewership records, making it the most-watched NCAA Tournament in 22 years, according to Nielsen.

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus says there are even more ways to watch this year, after CBS and Turner signed deals with Apple and Roku.

"The viewer really has the ultimate decision on how to watch the game. We just want to give them all the opportunities to do so," he said.

Even with the declines in productivity and its financial burden, Challenger, Gray & Christmas recommends that employers embrace the tournament.

"Efforts to suppress the 'madness' would most likely result in long-term damage to employee morale, loyalty and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity," the firm said.