The March Madness Productivity Price Tag

Workers tuning in online and on office TVs to see how their NCAA basketball bracket is faring could be costing their companies a lot in terms of productivity — or they could be costing them nothing at all, depending on who you ask.

As WalletPop reported, “global outplacement consultancy firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that workers distracted by March Madness could cost employers as much as $1.8 billion in unproductive wages during the first week of the tournament, which ends April 5 with the championship game.”

Challenger, Gray & Christmas base that number on 20 minutes of wasted time per fan per day. That probably only includes a few peeks at scores throughout the day, says WalletPop.

That $1.8 billion price tag is more than enough to establish your own space agency or eat lunch with Warren Buffett every day for the next few years. It’s a lot of money.

But is the claim true? According to those liberal thinkers at Slate, it may be total bogus: “I'm happy to report that Challenger's estimate is as loosey-goosey as they come. For one thing, he misjudges the size of the dedicated college hoops audience. In 2005, for instance, the NCAA championship game drew 23.1 million households, according to Nielsen. The year before, only 16.6 million households tuned in to the championship game, which indicates that many so-called fans have only a casual interest in the tournament … In concocting his lost-productivity estimate, Challenger doesn't acknowledge that ‘wasted time’ is built into every workday. Workers routinely shop during office hours, take extended coffee breaks, talk to friends on the phone, enjoy long lunches, or gossip around the water cooler.”

Not this worker, of course. But I can see how it is theoretically possible for an employee somewhere in America to waste a bit of time at the water cooler needlessly hydrating or lazily devouring lunch on company time.

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