While some companies may worry about March Madness because of productivity concerns, others choose to embrace it as an employee engagement tool.
“It’s something to focus on other than day-to-day work, and in today’s world, work-life balance is so blurred,” said Jennifer Zweig, OfficeTeam regional vice president at staffing agency Robert Half. Zweig oversees four of the company’s 300 offices.
More employees have nontraditional work arrangements — for example working remotely some or most of the time — so by focusing on a sports event like college basketball’s annual March Madness tournament, employees can get to know each other more and connect over something other than work, she added.
The average employee spends six work hours on sports-related activities during the tournament, according to an OfficeTeam survey of 1,000 U.S. workers. The survey also found that 64 percent of the men surveyed and 55 percent of those ages 18-34 surveyed said they loved bonding with colleagues by keeping up with sports events.
A company first should make sure its tournament plan adheres to company policy. Zweig said. Then it should communicate to employees that it is OK for them to participate in the three-week tournament and that they can feel free to have fun and not hide their sports-related activities so long as they still get their work done.
Even employees who are not sports fans can enjoy the boosted morale and comradery, Zweig said. They can wear their alma mater colors even if their team didn’t make it into the tournament just so that can also feel invested in team activities.
Companies can also create small prizes for the winners of the bracket that aren’t only interesting for avid sports fans, like a gift certificate to a restaurant. Companies can also keep non-sports fans invested in the tournament by offering smaller prizes throughout different parts of the tournament. For example, Zweig offers a small coffee-shop gift card for the person who correctly guessed the most teams that make the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight.
What companies can offer as prizes will depend on the company and its budget, Zweig added.
She also recommends setting aside certain tournament days for something special, like hosting a casual-dress day where employees can wear their favorite sports colors, bring in snacks, or let employees take a lunch break to watch a game together.
“The [employees] seem to really enjoy being part of something outside of work, and even the most casual fan seems to enjoy it,” Zweig said.
Staffing agency LaSalle Network in Chicago also takes advantage of this time to engage both employees and managers. It does a company bracket every year in which employees from different offices or business units can participate, said Maureen Hoersten, LaSalle’s chief operating officer. Although it’s an employee-led activity, the company encourages managers and leadership to get involved as well so they can connect with their employees on a more personal, casual level.
“The key is to not let march madness divide people into groups — those who follow sports and those who don’t, which is why it’s important to get leadership involved who aren’t into sports,” Hoersten said. “This way, staff knows they can participate regardless of their interest in basketball.”
The company also hosts an open house for employees, managers and clients, she said. People can attend the viewing party throughout the day, and it’s a chance for employees to spend time with clients as well as employees from different offices in a casual setting.
“It’s a different way to get to know people,” Hoersten said. “Everyone loves talking about their favorite team or college. Even though (University of) Iowa isn’t in the tournament this year, I’ll still be wearing my Iowa shirt.”
Andie Burjek is an associate editor at Workforce. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.