From the March 2010 issue of Ceridian Connection.

March Madness: Do you call a foul on gambling in the workplace?

With the release of the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket on March 14, its official -- March Madness has arrived. Although your boss is hoping otherwise, he or she shouldn't be surprised when employees shift their focus from meeting business objectives to strategically placing bets on which teams will make it to the finals. March Madness is not only one of the most elaborate championship tournaments in American sports, but according to a February poll by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), its excitement results in the second most popular organized office pool -- only followed by the Super Bowl. Should employers view gambling as a harmless way to improve employee morale or should they put measures in place to avoid the inevitable loss of work productivity? 

According to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, March Madness comes with a hefty price tag for businesses. The firm found that American businesses stand to lose close to $1.8 billion during the first 6 days of the NCAA basketball tournament. In total, businesses will lose at least $4 billion in productivity during the 16 working days of the tournament. With statistics like that, there is no doubt that the NCAA tournament affects employees and impacts their work. 

March Madness may be a time to bond with your coworkers over the excitement -- and upsets -- that define the NCAA tournament, but will employees fall victim to the madness of it all? SHRM found that although many HR professionals believe that office pools have a positive impact on employee morale (55 percent) and teamwork (42 percent), 37 percent believe it has a negative impact on work productivity. The same study indicated that 30 percent of all employers know that NCAA office pools take place during regular business hours. The study also showed that 8 percent reported an increase in employees calling in sick the day after a major televised event and 11 percent saw an increase in employee tardiness. If employers are aware of pools and have seen the negative outcomes, should they do anything to stop it? 

Even if an employer accepts a certain loss of productivity during college basketball playoffs, a darker and more dangerous side effect of March Madness may be employees who struggle with addiction. According to the National Council of Problem Gambling, 3 million (1 percent) U.S. adults meet the criteria for pathological gambling. Another 2 to 3 percent of the population is classified as problem gamblers, who have less significant, but still serious problems with their gambling. The National Council of Problem Gambling also uncovered a strong link between suicide and pathological gambling. Employers must carefully consider whether their benign neglect of office pools presents a temptation for someone struggling with a gambling addiction. Ceridian solutions such as HR Compliance, Employee Assistance Programs,Leave Administration, and Employee Retention and Productivity can provide employers with resources and solutions to make managing complex workplace issues a slam dunk.