Can Embracing March Madness Improve Employee Engagement?

The signs are upon us that spring is coming. The clocks have sprung forward, the trees and flowers are starting to bloom (in some parts of the country at least), and March Madness has arrived! It’s time for the sports frenzy dreaded by many employers, supervisors and HR professionals alike – the NCAA basketball tournaments that take place annually during March. But could employers actually win by embracing the madness and increasing employee engagement?


Duke vs. North Carolina and Employers vs. Employees?

The longstanding rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is not the only conflict that comes into laser focus during tournament season. It often seems like employers and employees are pitted against each other as soon as February ends and talk of March Madness begins.

Employers often worry about the loss of productivity and gambling in the workplace. Meanwhile, employees are often portrayed as figuring out how to get away with consuming as much of the tournament as possible on their employer’s dime.

The NCAA’s March Madness website even gets in on the employer vs. employee mentality by offering a “boss button” that employees can use when someone gets close enough to see their computer screens. After the button is clicked, the screen is instantly turned into something that looks work related (e.g., a PowerPoint).

Employee Engagement: Tourney Style

Employers should make an effort to keep the rivalries on the court and take the “us vs. them” mentality out of their workplaces. The reward may be increased employee motivation and engagement.

March Madness is something that all different types of employees embrace. It’s that time of year when a lot of people become sports fans for the tournaments, bracketology and the upsets. Everyone loves cheering for the underdog against one of the Goliath teams. (Ahem…go Lipscomb University, my undergraduate alma mater that makes its debut at the big dance this year!)

Whether individuals pick teams based on true fandom, in-depth knowledge, team colors, underdog status or team mascots, it’s a time when everyone seems to get in on the craziness. This includes your employees! In fact, according to a survey from OfficeTeam, almost half of the professional respondents (46 percent) said they were big fans of celebrating sporting events like March Madness in the office.

It’s inevitable that tourney talk and excitement is going to permeate the office, but it’s a chance for employers to engage their employees and boost morale. Some activities that employers have implemented to embrace March Madness include:

  • Offering office watch parties;
  • Putting televisions in break rooms;
  • Organizing free organization-wide pools;
  • Allowing flexible schedules; and
  • Having casual days where employees can wear team gear or colors.

The Importance of Engagement

So why is improving employee engagement and fostering employee motivation important? Well, employee engagement has been shown to provide various strategic benefits, including:

  • Organizations with highly engaged employees often have better financial performance than those with disengaged employees.
  • An engaged employee generally has a sense of purpose and is attached and dedicated to an employer’s mission and goals.
  • Employees’ commitment to their employers and their jobs drives employee retention.

Fun, But Not Too Much Fun

Of course, no matter how you as an employer decide to handle March Madness, make sure you review applicable policies with your workforce so they know what is and isn’t allowed.

If you decide to embrace the madness (at least to some extent), the key may be to develop a balance but not go overboard. If someone is abusing your goodwill and spending hours streaming live games, address it according to your policies and procedures. But realize that most of your employees are hardworking and aren’t going to abuse your trust in them. Letting them check the scores every now and then isn’t going to financially doom your organization.

However, it is important to address the potential gambling component that often arises from the tournament. While sponsoring workplace March Madness activities may have an uplifting effect on workers, employers still need to think about the potential risks of such activities as well and should consider:

  • Developing and implementing a workplace gambling policy;
  • Monitoring workplace betting and gambling; and
  • Closely observing alcohol intake if it is included in any activities.

Let the Games Begin

Your employees are most likely going to keep up with the tournament no matter what you do to try to stop it from infiltrating the workplace. So cracking down on them is only going to make them more resentful and more likely to be less productive in the long run. Finding a way to embrace the madness (within reason) may help improve employee engagement in the long run.

How does your organization handle March Madness? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


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