Can embracing March Madness make your office more productive? | WBEZ
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Can embracing March Madness make your office more productive?

The snow is melting. The potholes crackling. The sun shining. And yes, it's March Madness

It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s quintessentially American. Some 77 million people across the country are expected to come down with some form of March Madness this year. Pete Kadens is one of those people.

“For a couple years out of college, I worked for a big company out of New York. I hated every minute of it, frankly—but there were two days I hated more than any other,” Kadens said.

Those two days were the Thursday and the Friday of March Madness.

“I saw that actually no one was working. There weren’t smart phones but people brought in mini televisions, had them under their desks,” Kadens explained.

Firms like Challenger, Gray & Christmas calculate the cost of such antics. They estimate a $1.9 billion loss in productivity---when workers like Kadens spend time researching picks, filling out brackets and watching games on their computer...they’re not working.

But Kadens made a commitment to his post-college, cubicle-confined self: If he ever started his own company, he was going to be different.

“My company would have vacation days. And together, instead of working, we would celebrate and watch March Madness,” Kadens said.

And that’s exactly what he did. Every year, his company, SoCore Energy, cancels work on the first Friday of the tournament. He invites employees, clients and vendors to come meet at a bar to enjoy some drinks, some games and some outside-of-the-office time with coworkers.

The rationale, Kadens said, is much bigger than his love of college basketball.

“The NCAA Tournament is all about David vs. Goliath. And everyone, I don’t care who you root for, everyone wants to see the underdog win,” he said.

Kadens said seeing employees with their family and friends helps him understand the biases they bring to the table.

“This event gives us a forum to meet those people and understand someone’s underlying bias--why John acts this way--that gives you more context...there’s a rationale to it, it’s not just, let’s go have fun,” he said.

But, as it turns out, there may be some merit to the party plan. NYU Professor Lee Igel seems to think so—he’s an expert in decision making and behaviors at work in the sports business.

“We would've thought it completely insane to let people take the time, away from their work on company dime, to go off and do something like watch basketball games or fill out brackets,” Igel said.

But he says that type of thinking is outdated.  

According to Igel, the nature of “work” in America has changed. 100 years ago, most people worked with their hands. In the 21st Century, we’re working with our minds. It’s what’s called “knowledge work.”

He added there’s no need for fake spreadsheets or secret live streams--it will ultimately hurt companies in the long run. And further, Igel argues, today’s workforce needs these periodic distractions.

“We need people to actually get away from the same thing, over and over and over again,” Igel said. “This idea of indulging in March Madness with cloak and dagger, we don’t need that anymore, we don’t live in that world, we don’t work in that world...stop the insanity over March Madness.” 

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