Waste of time? Purdue, OneAmerica think employers can embrace March Madness

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It’s March Madness and lots of companies are trying to find a way to profit from college’s basketball’s biggest event—the NCAA men’s tournament.

For years, we’ve been hearing what a time suck the tournament is on the nation’s workers as employees everywhere hustle off to bars or hunker down in cubicles to watch the drama live during the work day.

But is there actually a way for companies to make the tournament pay? Researchers at Purdue University say yes.

“While not every employee will relish basketball being brought into the office, an employer who uses the tournament as a way to discuss teamwork lessons or simply have a good time may find that there's a big payoff for the business,” said Ellen Ernst Kossek, a Purdue professor of management and research director of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence.

Kossek said bringing the activity into office culture can provide a meaningful long-term productivity boost. She offers the following ideas for management to consider as they plan the work day this Thursday and Friday around March Madness.

Kossek recommends creating a common work place area where employees can watch the games and build camaraderie. She also recommends extrapolating the lessons from the game—including teamwork and leadership—into the work place.

“Having some levity in the workplace can help people decompress from stress. Food and social events can be shared in the conference room and not the local bar, which may be appealing to many workers,” Kossek said.

Here are a few other lessons from the hardwood Kossek says can be incorporated into the work place.

● Sometimes the game hero isn’t the top scorer, but the one with the most assists and rebounds. “As in business, employees learn you can’t win the game trying to score all the baskets yourself,” Kossek said.

● Games also provide lessons in leadership, from those who inspire the team on a roll to those who help overcome a dry spell in scoring.

● Watching the shifts in tempos and leads can show how quickly fortunes can turn. “How a team handles adversity tells a lot about mental and physical toughness, resilience and how not to let setbacks mushroom into major problems,” she said.

● Observing sportsmanship and fair play on the court also can be a lesson in ethics. “This is something nearly every business needs,” Kossek said. “Flagrant fouls and disrespectful fans demonstrate more clearly than any lecture the value of taking the higher ground when competing.”

OneAmerica is one local firm embracing this philosophy.

Nearly 2,000 OneAmerica employees across the country will be encouraged to take a break from work, create a bracket for the men’s and women’s 68-team tournament fields, and even peruse the Tournament Challenge section of ESPN.com, which is normally blocked.

The company even held an employee event Tuesday afternoon in the OneAmerica Tower lobby, where employees were encouraged to wear their favorite college team attire and fill out brackets, eat popcorn, try their hand at Pop-A-Shot and enjoy a screening of “Hoosiers.”  


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