If you work in this city, there’s a good chance you are talking about March Madness right now

It’s March and that means March Madness will soon be upon us.

Workplaces will shift production into hours and hours of basketball-starved workers glued to TVs and their incognitos browser tabs in order to keep up with college basketball’s biggest tournament, in hopes their bracket isn’t busted on the first Thursday of action (Here’s how to win your office pool).

Judging by prior years, workplaces should expect to lose some value in production, which might be compounded even more due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and workplaces looking to keep production steady.

Business and coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated employers would lose $13.3 billion in lost productivity due to March Madness in 2019. While the number might make companies cringe, March Madness should be welcomed as a healthy exercise that can encourage team bonding and bring an office together in a friendly way.

Wait, what?

It’s true: employees at companies that celebrate sporting events say they improve morale, according to research. Staffing firm Robert Half polled more than 1,000 workers in the US finding that more than 75% of workers said national sports events like March Madness relieve some of the day-to-day slogs and improve their on-the-job morale. Things like throwing together some themed snack breaks or potlucks were some of the most impactful activities that can boost office spirits, according to the study.

“Employers can win big by organizing festivities that capitalize on the excitement around sporting events like March Madness,” Stephanie Naznitsky, executive director of OfficeTeam, said in a press release. “Giving staff the freedom to watch a game or chat about scores together, for example, can go a long way toward building a more cohesive team and positive workplace culture.”

How can managers keep their teams organized during the madness? There are ways, according to an expert.

“Between filling out brackets, researching picks, watching the games and then calling in sick or skipping work due to game days or hangovers, you are looking at a sharp downturn in employee performance,” said Rob Wilson, employment trends expert and president of Employco USA. “Luckily there are some ways you can manage this common nationwide issue.”

Offer computers for personal use

With workers likely to find ways behind browser blockers, Wilson said offering employees computers for personal use during their breaks is a way to keep people on track.

“Offer your employees 1-2 computers for personal use during their breaks,” he said. “Make sure the computers are in a public area and have a sign-in sheet to ensure that everyone will get a fair chance to use the computers and that people do not use them for extended periods of time. That way, if anyone needs to check their personal email or use the internet on their lunch break, they don’t need to use their official work computers.”

Televisions in the break room

Try to steer your employees’ focus from their computers and cellphones. Wilson advises places a TV in a break room or an area away from work stations that can be utilized during breaks, where sign-in sheets will enable all workers to get a fair share of viewing. Also, remember: not all employees will be engaged in March Madness, so be flexible with allowing others to watch something other than college basketball.

In-office betting

Like fantasy football, gambling is a slippery slope around the office. Depending on where you work, in-office better could be illegal.

“Even if it is not illegal, I would advise that companies have a no-gambling policy, including office pools or any other communal stakes,” he said. “Send out a company-wide reminder during this time to refresh employees’ minds and ensure that no March Madness takes place on company time.”

If you encourage betting, it’s wise to think twice if you’re a boss or manager.

“Make [betting] for junior employees only and rather than betting money, make the winnings a gift card to a local coffee shop or even a bonus vacation day,” Wilson said.

Taking time off

If your fandom for Duke is as crazy as the Cameron Crazies and you just cannot stand to watch at your desk, you should request time off now instead of the day of the game. This is where personal days can be used, according to Wilson.

“If you know that your employees are going to want to attend a game or watch it from their couches or favorite bars, now is also a good time to send out a reminder about asking for personal days,” he said. Remind employees that they need to ask for days in advance and that late call-ins could result in a penalty.”