Office Pools May Cost U.S. Employers $1.8 Billion But, Dagnabbit, People Love 'Em!

Could West Virginia be your ticket to 10 weeks of company-paid vacation?

Going to work the day after Selection Sunday is such a joy. Blank brackets left in the copy machines, co-workers endorsing their alma mater; the entire work force transforms itself into a panel of NCAA experts. March Madness creates such mayhem at the office that U.S. employers could lose up to $1.8 billion in unproductive wages during the first week of action according to an annual survey by Chicago-based placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

An estimated 58.3 million Americans partake in NCAA office pools with each participant dedicating 20 minutes per day to television coverage or focusing on their brackets. However, that figure of 20 minutes per day could be a bit skewed with the addition of the boss-button. Savvy veterans have traded in break room pit stops (to view the company TV) for Internet coverage on their PC.

Surprisingly, John Challenger, the firm's chief executive officer, views office pools as morale boosters rather than a hindrance to a company. "The workplace has changed, and with downsizing and employees coming and going more frequently, there are fewer opportunities for bonding," Challenger says. "Getting workers engaged is worth all the money lost during March Madness."

A recent survey conducted by Office Team proved Challenger's sentiments aren't so far-fetched. Of the 1,000 office managers polled, 41 percent felt the NCAA Tournament has a positive impact on employee morale while 22 percent actually believe March Madness increases workers' productivity. Someone should deliver this survey to those opposing a Division I football playoff system under the campaign slogan: "Will work for tourney."

We think Challenger's onto something, though, in terms of the brackets raising morale. We wonder if he's taken this conclusion far enough though. Instead of staking hard-earned wages on office pools, how about allowing employees to wager vacation days? Each employee donates one vacation day as their entrance fee and the top three finishers divvy up the days. Talk about an office pool with some serious stakes. The entire company will be whipped into a frenzy as they compete for the 10 weeks of vacation that is awarded to the first place finisher, especially that programmer dude who you never talk to, stops you in the hall and says, "I think that John Calimari can take Kentucky all the way." Don't correct him. Just give him a smile and say, "But are you willing to risk your vacation on it?"