Published March 13, 2024

As employers attempt to recall their workers to the office, the upcoming March Madness tournament may be the perfect way to lure them back in-person, at least for two days. Regardless of whether workers are in the office, the tournament could cost employers nearly $10 billion, according to an analysis of new data from outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Challenger analysis of 2024 March Madness for Employers $1.41B lost wages resulting from the possibility 40,868,000 employed people (68 million X 60.1%) spending at least one hour of one workday on March Madness activities (40,868,000 X $34.57) $9.6 billion Cost of lost productivity from the entire tournament

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

“As companies strategize ways to motivate their workforce to return to the office or coalesce in a remote and hybrid environment, the March Madness tournament could be an enticing incentive,” said Andrew Challenger, workplace and labor expert and Senior Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

In the era of remote and hybrid work, fostering a sense of connection among team members has become increasingly challenging, particularly for GenZ and Millennial workers who are increasingly choosing to shun what they could perceive as mandated “fun.”

“March Madness is an opportunity to bridge this gap, offering excitement and camaraderie that can revive the workplace across the generational divide,” said Challenger. He suggests leveraging the tournament as a central theme for office events, such as viewing parties and bracket challenges, to create a more dynamic and engaging workplace for both remote and in-office employees.

Rising wages and employment figures reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) highlight the potential financial impact of lost productivity during the tournament. However, the firm suggests that the benefits of enhanced employee engagement and morale could offset these costs. For companies navigating the aftermath of layoffs, the tournament offers a welcome respite, helping alleviate the stress associated with survival syndrome.

To maximize the positive effects of March Madness in the workplace, Challenger recommends designating areas for game streaming, encouraging participation in bracket challenges with incentives, and fostering a team spirit by encouraging employees to wear their favorite team gear. These activities not only make the workplace livelier, but also strengthen the sense of community and teamwork, essential components for a productive and happy workforce.

"March Madness is an opportunity to bridge this gap, offering excitement and camaraderie that can revive the workplace across the generational divide," said Challenger.

Challenger offered the following tips to use March Madness to build morale:

  • Designate a workstation to streaming games or give workers time to watch in the break room with colleagues.
  • Choose one game the entire office can watch live at the same time, both in-person workers and remote teams.
  • Offer an incentive for workers to fill out and share their brackets, such as a charitable donation and increase the amount if a large percentage of the company participates. Workers vote on the charity.
  • Offer individual prizes for top brackets, like gift cards, lunches, coffees, experience gift, or even PTO.
  • Include one bracket for each department for a team prize.
  • Encourage workers to wear team gear to both in-person and remote meetings.
Challenger tips to use the March Madness Tournament to build employee morale.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

About the Estimate

According to Challenger, this year’s tournament could cost employers $9.6 billion. The firm’s estimate is based on 68 million adults who plan to wager on the games, according to 2023 figures from the American Gaming Association. Using the employment-population ratio of 60.1% in February 2024, that means approximately 40.9 million working Americans are likely to be caught up in March Madness. Multiply by the estimated time spent filling out brackets and streaming games, and average hourly earnings, which, in February, stood at $34.57 according to the BLS.

A 2019 survey by OfficeTeam found workers spend 25.5 minutes per workday on March Madness-related activities during the tournament. If that holds true this year, across the 16 workdays between selection Sunday on March 17 and the championship game on Monday, April 8, workers would spend 408 minutes, or 6.8 hours, on March Madness-related activities at work. That would mean the tournament could cost employers conservatively $9,607,085,968.

Over the last several years, Challenger has used a 2018 survey conducted by TSheets by QuickBooks which found 48% of workers work on their brackets at work. That would mean 77,264,640 workers are participating in March Madness activities while at work. Using this figure multiplied by the average hourly wage, the games could cost employers $2.67 billion per hour and up to $18,163,062,512.64 over the course of the tournament.

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Contact Colleen Madden Blumenfeld for more data or to set up an interview with SVP Andy Challenger.

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