Basketball Tournament & Productivity


The True Cost Of March Madness
By Chris Schonberger

In 2006, one critic took on a report by Challenger, Gray &Christmas–a report claiming that March Madness costs employers $3.8 billion or more in lost productivity from workers.

The critic, Slate’s Jack Schafer, wrote that Challenger–a consulting company headquartered in Chicago–reached this catastrophic figure “based on an average wage of $18 an hour and 58 million college basketball fans spending 13.5 minutes online each of the 16 business days” between the start of the tournament and the championship game.

Schafer poked a few obvious holes in the assumptions behind this calculation–most notably that the base of rabid college basketball fans is probably not that large and that there are a lot of other ways employees procrastinate during a normal workday (such as online shopping and congregating by the proverbial water cooler).

Indeed, an AOL and survey from 2005 revealed that the average American worker wastes 2.09 hours per eight-hour workday, mostly by hanging 10 on the Net. By 2007, that number was down to 1.7 hours, so maybe Challenger needs to crunch some numbers on the waning loyalties of NHL fans.

As a writer, I am inherently unproductive. But these calculations–and Schafer’s misgivings–spurred me to ponder the true nature of workplace efficiency. For one thing, are those 13.5 minutes of college hoops really in addition to the preexisting 2.09 hours of inefficiency? Even if they are, it’s clear that obsessive bracketology is just one prevalent example of a wider phenomenon.

So why did college basketball bear the brunt of this exposé? Perhaps the college basketball lobby isn’t strong enough. What about the presidential race? A year of obsessive clicking on URLs containing polls and punditry must take a heavy toll on the nation’s productivity, no?

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