And so it begins.

In case you missed it, yesterday was Selection Sunday – the day the NCAA announced which college basketball teams performed well enough during the regular season to make it to the field of 68 and the Division 1 Men's Basketball Championship tournament.

That means it's time to fill in those brackets – something millions of employees may well do on company time.

Dr. Dene Williamson teaches undergraduate courses in Saint Leo's sport business program as well as graduate courses such as Sport Facility Planning & Design in the university's online MBA program in sport business. As she sees it, there's solid business sense for embracing the madness – and the loss in productivity – by allowing employees to indulge in tourney activities while they're on the clock.

Reality Inside Office Cubicles

Williamson shared her perspective and research to support her view during a presentation titled, "Embracing the Loss of Employee Productivity during Major Sport Events" at last month's 2015 Global Sport Business Association annual conference.

"It's inevitable and we've all seen it happen," says Williamson. "Employees spend time at work filling out their brackets, streaming games on their computers and, of course, talking with colleagues about their team's performance during the last game."

According to Williamson, reports show that March Madness will cost American companies at least $134 million in lost wages over the first two days.

"Research indicates that an estimated 3 million employees will spend one to three hours watching games and checking scores instead of working," she says. "Over the 16 days of the tournament, that's an estimated $1.7 billion in wasted work time."

Sapping Workplace Productivity

It's not just college basketball and March Madness that occupy workers' attention at work. Just about any major sporting event causes lost productivity, Williamson says, using the World Cup as an example.

"One study concluded that if just half of the 16 million World Cup viewers took two hours at work to watch the game, at an average of $24.38 an hour, that would cost $390 million."

Even the day after a major televised event, human resource professionals report an increase in sick days and employee tardiness. A study conducted by the Workforce Institute at Kronos showed 1.5 million people call in sick on Super Bowl Monday and 4.4 million come to work late.

Turning a Distraction into a Perk

The natural reaction on the part of businesses is to try to keep employees focused on work instead of match-ups and scores.

"Sixty-five percent of IT professionals say their companies attempt to hinder or prevent workers from streaming video content such as NCAA games at the office," says Williamson.

"I remember when I was in college being surprised by my mom coming home from work early one day during March Madness. She said she had a headache, but really she wanted to watch basketball," she says with a laugh.

That personal experience is one reason why Williamson supports business taking the opposite approach.

She believes March Madness offers an opportunity for business to create an employee perk that can boost morale, cultivate camaraderie and foster teamwork by embracing workers' love of the game.

Williamson says some companies set up televisions in break rooms and give workers time to catch up on scores. Some bring in pizza and encourage employees to hang out with co-workers instead of leaving to watch the game elsewhere. Others encourage friendly competition by allowing staff to wear their favorite team's apparel or decorate their offices.

These companies are taking advantage of a potential negative and turning it into a positive – they're building loyalty and providing employees with the opportunity to bond, she says.

While Williamson now laughs about her mother's fanaticism, she also advocates for moderation.

"Like anything else, moderation and common sense are key. After all, not every employee is a basketball fanatic," she says.

"Nor, for that matter, is every customer."

Anyone working on March Madness brackets? Do you think it's a good idea to let employees do so at work?

Image Credit: Piotr Krzeslak on Shutterstock