Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is there a game on today?

March Madness. For many employers, that phrase often carries a double-meaning: the commonly understood reference to the onset of college basketball frenzy during the month, and the feeling that overcomes many employers because they believe they suffer in productivity because the games are a distraction at work.

No doubt, talk around the office often shifts from the latest inventory count to the latest point count; in-bound deliveries to in-bound plays; turn-around margins to turnover margins--you get the idea. How does an employer beat this game? By beating it at its own game, you might say.

A trend is slowly developing in companies to embrace the madness that is March. Some employers host March Madness lunches--where they bring in food for employees, set up TVs in break rooms, and encourage employees to spend a little more time than usual on their breaks and lunch periods to watch the games. Others allow employees to bring in snack foods for all to enjoy, set up in a common area with a television, and let employees stop in as schedules allow. Whatever the approach, employers are beginning to shrug their shoulders and say, "If you can't beat 'em. . . ."

The theory is that if you don't deny the employees the ability to indulge in the games, if you openly embrace the games, then employees are less likely to sneak during work time to find out what is happening with the action.

Other companies are allowing their employees to wear clothing items showing off their school spirit on the days when their teams are playing. Employees who don't have teams in the tournament (or remaining in the tournament) are encouraged to fly their school colors nonetheless.

Are there any benefits to employers? Sure--employers find that this time of year provides a perfect setting to do something nice for their workers and show them that they mean more to the company than the number of widgets they can turn out during a shift. In a time when the economy is less than stellar, small efforts to make employees feel important and needed can go a long way toward improving employee morale and retention. And with spring fever often coming into full bloom (no pun intended) at this same time, a little mental break for the employees is often welcome.

So next time you think March Madness is getting the best of you and your company, think about flipping the script. Sometimes it's okay to have fun at work.

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