Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Business Professionals Can Learn from March Madness Basketball Pools

With March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day and spring fever upon us, tomorrow may not be a hugely productive day at the office. But the morale-building and camaraderie that results from these unofficial national holidays could be priceless if you’re smart about it. As many of you know, we love Guinness stout and several of us are ardent home brewers here at HB, but let’s focus on basketball for today.

The annual NCAA Men’s National Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness) starts later this week. It’s an annual rite of spring. Co-workers who wouldn’t know a free throw from a free fall; or who couldn’t find Gonzaga, Butler and Valparaiso Universities on a map if their life depended on it, suddenly start rooting themselves hoarse for the Zags, the Bulldogs and the Crusaders if they have those schools in their tournament brackets. You can’t make this up!

Just as the Super Bowl commercials have become as big as the NFL championship game itself, filling out NCAA tournament brackets--and predicting the shocking upsets that inevitably occur--has taken on a life of its own apart from the action on the court.

HR lessons from hoops?

Even the spoilsports in your HR department will generally look the other way, as concerns over illicit gambling pale in comparison to the morale building, relationship building and friendly competition that “filling out the brackets” creates around the office. Odds are you won’t win your pool. But , seeing mild-mannered Nancy from accounting--who filled out her bracket based on each team’s colors--finish 23 points ahead of Tim and Dwayne, who played varsity basketball in college. That’s priceless!

The pools also teach you a lot about behavioral finance and human nature. Who are the big risk takers in the office and who are the “Johnny Favorites” who follow the “wisdom of the crowd” and play it safe each round? You get to see who relies on complex algorithms to make their picks and who relies on gut instinct (i.e. Sunbelt teams do better on the road than northern teams if playing within 100 miles of home). Who hedges their bets with five separate pools filled out a week in advance, and who fills out a single pool on a whim 15 minutes before the opening “play in” games start?

According to SHRM, the Society for Human Resources Management, 81 percent of employers say they do not have a policy regulating office pools like those that come with the NCAA tournament. That data was collected during last year’s tournament and marks a big shift from 2010, when 67 percent of employers said they had an office policy. (Of the companies that do have policies, only 7 percent claim to have ever disciplined an employee.)

What’s more, HR professionals agree that office pools actually have a positive workplace effect. About 70 percent say they play a positive role in relationship building at their companies, 64 percent say they help with team building, and 54 percent said they even increase employee engagement.

Now we’re not encouraging employees to wager (and lose) life-changing amounts of money, and we certainly don’t want those with gambling addictions to fill out pools, but as SHRM discovered through its research, employees huddled around, keeping track of scores, talking about something other than work — it’s not hard to see how March Madness could ultimately help build these connections.

As Inc. Magazine reported recently, “You might notice a small downtick in productivity during the Madness, consider your laissez-faire approach to office pools an investment in creating the kind of longer-term engagement that will more than make up for it down the road.” Amen to that.


So who are we picking to win it all? Stay tuned. DISCLOSURE: One of our largest clients is based in Gainesville, Florida—home of the top ranked Florida Gators—and another client is on the board of UF's Warrington College of Business Administration, but don’t make automatic assumptions about our “bracketology” leanings.

Enjoy the tourney. Have a great week. Erin Go Bragh!

Tags: March Madness, Society for Human Resource Management, SHRM, bracketology, NCAA Basketball, Florida Gators, St. Patrick’s Day, bracketology



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