The employees of Delta Dental of Oklahoma plan to gather for refreshments Monday afternoon and fill out and submit individual brackets for a com-panywide contest to see who can choose the champions of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, which tips off on Tuesday.
“We’ve never done this before, but anticipate it being great fun for our some 100 employees,” Delta Dental spokesman Tom Searls said. The winner will be awarded two tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder game and runners-up will receive Thunder jerseys and T-shirts, Searls said.
Meanwhile, the three staffers at Oklahoma City-based Group & Pension Planners Inc. collectively are completing a team bracket to see if they can “beat the boss,” said the boss, Wayne Pettigrew.
Winner gets a free lunch, Pettigrew said.
As some Oklahoma employers are planning such fun, morale-building events, others across the state and nation are bracing for the inevitable dip in productivity resulting from “March Madness.”
With an estimated 50 million to 100 million Americans participating in office pools or related activities, companies stand to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament alone, according to calculations released Tuesday by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. in Chicago.
John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said “You have employees talking about which teams made or didn’t make the tournament. You have other workers setting up and managing office pools,” Challenger said. “Of course, there are the office pool participants, some of whom might take five minutes to fill out a bracket, while others spend several hours researching teams, analyzing statistics and completing multiple brackets.”
“Finally, Thursday and Friday bring the actual games, which typically begin during the work day,” he said.
“Companies may be able to prevent unplanned absences related to March Madness by serving a catered lunch on the first two days of the tournament,” Challenger said. “Others,” he said, “may want to have a couple of televisions around the office showing games, which might keep some employees from streaming games at their desk.”
Not technically legal
Philip Bruce, an attorney with McAfee & Taft law firm in Oklahoma City, reminds state employers that office pools — whether they’re for the NCAA tournament, Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby or any other sporting event — technically are illegal under state law. And, depending on how the pool is conducted and if it’s sponsored by the employer, it can violate multiple state and federal laws, Bruce said.
“Realistically, these pools are so widespread that these laws are rarely, if ever, enforced when it comes to low-wager office pools,” he said. “But if an employer has an anti-gambling policy then, like any other policy, it should enforce it fairly and consistently. Picking and choosing what policies the employer enforces can lead to other problems down the road.”
Employers who don’t have anti-gambling policies, and are willing to take the risk of prosecution, should ensure all participants in the pool understand the rules and keep the betting to a small amount of money, Bruce said.
“One alternative is to turn each bet into a charitable donation where the bracket winner gets to decide where to donate the pool of money by selecting from a pre-approved list of charities,” he said. “Another idea is to not require employees to pay any money to enter and, instead, award the winner with some non-monetary reward, such as a ‘casual Friday’ of his or her choosing.”
A positive view
Oklahoma City human relations expert Jim Farris feels employers should be more lax when Oklahoma teams compete, allowing co-workers to watch the games together in a conference room. Studies show if employers give people that sort of respect, they’ll be more productive, and the camaraderie will help build teamwork for future work projects, he said.
“There are two traits common among organizations that attract and retain the best employees: their pay and benefits are great, and they treat their employees great,” Farris said.
Most companies today monitor Internet usage to secure proprietary information. Others block Yahoo!, personal e-mail sites and news and sports sites that have streaming media.
“But what’s the point?” Farris said. “Workers now can catch the games on their Blackberries or iPhones, or listen to them with earbuds. How can you control all that?” he said. “Why not trust people instead?”
Companies may be able to prevent unplanned absences related to March Madness by serving a catered lunch on the first two days.”
John A. Challenger,
Chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas