March 20, 2022

Article at Marco on Authory

Dribble drivel: Tournament pools, online betting create distinct camps at workplace

It’s back!

Sure, there was plenty of basketball banter among coworkers online and in-house the past two years but it seems like tournament talk is back with a vengeance in 2022. And it’s not just filling out brackets and tournament team drafts. It’s also online betting, now legal in many states, that are consuming many working environments in March and beyond. 

And if you’re the type of person who feels a constant, internal burn about how you’re getting screwed over at work, the collective increased interest in basketball isn’t doing you any favors. “I get it—it’s the tournament, but that doesn’t mean I have to be all rah-rah about it,” says Ben Tracer, a 28-year-old accountant in Spokane, Washington. “And I don’t even care that other people are into it. But work still has to get done. We can’t sit here and go back and forth about your picks all day. Show a little restraint.” 

Tracer isn’t the only one annoyed by the tournament. Erin Myers, a 41-year-old marketing planner in Santa Ana, California, was already bothered by her firm’s all-in approach to the NCAAs before Covid hit. “For years, I’ve had to listen to co-workers tell me how I should be in this pool or that pool, how I’m missing out on all this social time with my coworkers but that's a load of crap,” she said in 2019.  

Today, Myers says she expects it to be much worse than before. “If football was any indication—I mean, people were out of their minds during the playoffs, especially the people who lost or won money on the games, which I guess were kind of crazy—basketball is going to be insane,” she says. “And what does that get me? Nothing.” 

All together now

Still, giving employees the chance to bond over more than work can be beneficial to companies, especially those who’ve recently hired new workers. “Millions of workers have found new employment over the last six months, while employers have been actively hiring and attempting to retain their workers. Creating spaces for employees to celebrate together is more important than ever to build morale and camaraderie,” says Andrew Challenger, workplace expert and Senior Vice President of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “Short of mandating participation, employers should actively encourage engagement in the games. It’s an easy and fun way to connect with colleagues. Likely, workers are already interested in the games anyway.”

The tournament can help build team spirit at the office now, which could help coworkers collaborate later. OfficeTeam recently asked more than 1,000 managers whether March Madness activities, such as watching game highlights or engaging in friendly competitions, affect morale and productivity. Forty-one percent of those surveyed felt the college basketball playoffs have a positive effect on employee morale. The majority (56 percent) also said March Madness activities do not impact productivity, and 22 percent of respondents believed the festivities actually boost workers’ output.

But that doesn’t mean the tournament is good for the company’s bottom line, at least this month. According to Challenger, this year’s tournament could cost employers $16.3 billion. The firm’s estimate is based on the number of working Americans who are likely to be caught up in March Madness, the estimated time spent filling out brackets and streaming games and average hourly earnings, which, in February, stood at $31.58, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Keep it in check

Brian O’Conner, a workplace consultant in Baltimore, says there’s nothing wrong with some basketball-based bonding among coworkers during the month of March, but he cautions that it’s up to the employer to make sure things don’t get out of hand. 

“Anything that is sanctioned by the company that involves gambling is a definite no-no but it’s OK to have a few events, like a lunch or a viewing party, during the tournament,” O’Conner says. “But whatever you do, you need to consider the interests of the employees who may not care about basketball. It's OK to do something around the tournament as long as there are ways for being uninterested employees to participate. If you offer free sandwiches or free pizza one day while you turn the games on, you’re basically offering a free lunch and it's up to your employees whether or not they want to participate.”

While O’Conner says it's not a form of discrimination not to include all employees in every single company event, he did say that it is easy for employees to feel slighted when their interests aren’t represented. “You’re trying to build camaraderie at work, not destroy it. If managers are mindful of that, they’ll be fine,” he says. 

Tracer says he thinks the camaraderie part is fair. “I get that I’m a stick in the mud about it, as my grandmother would say, and maybe I need to lighten up a bit,” he says. “I’m kind of jealous, actually. Or maybe. Not sure. But if other people are having fun with it, that’s good. I’ve been such a jerk about it before that I need to find a way back in.” 

That shouldn’t be hard, says O’Conner. “People use the tournament to talk to people in their office they may never talk to otherwise,” he says. “I mean, what better way to melt the ice than to make fun of your own picks? Or if you’re lucky, brag about your amazing ability to pick the Final Four? It’s the in-between stuff that makes a workplace close. Don’t be on the outside, if you can help it.”

-By Marco Buscaglia, Tribune Content Agency; Published in the Chicago Tribune on March 20, 2022