PROVO — Trying to get work done during the opening days of March Madness can be challenging in many workplaces.
Millions of preoccupied workers could cost their employers nearly $4 billion in lost productivity in the opening week of the annual men’s college basketball tournament, warned global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Some companies, however, are embracing the madness and using it as a way to boost morale and inject added enthusiasm into their workforce.
Alaina Wood, 32, is a recreational soccer player who knew very little about college hoops seven years ago when she started working at NuSkin Enterprises. On Thursday, prompted by “peer pressure,” she joined the Utah Jazz dunk team as they performed high-flying feats of daring for a crowd of NuSkin employees gathered in the atrium of the company’s Innovation Center in downtown Provo.
“They were chanting my name, so what do you do — right?” she asked rhetorically with a bright smile and a hearty laugh. Buoyed by adrenaline, she tried to test the waters by making a run toward one of the mini-trampolines stationed just in front of a basket set up in the middle of the large open space.
As it turns out, she was unable to muster the courage necessary to make the required leap toward acrobatic immortality.
“I literally chickened out on my second attempt,” she admitted. “I did actually jump, but it was a weak jump.”
Her employer has developed a tradition to help the company’s 1,500 workers enjoy the March Madness experience by providing activities, hot dogs, popcorn and seven large TV screens to watch the exciting all-day hoops action. It is an effort to keep workers engaged as much as possible, when they might otherwise be particularly distracted if they had to sneak and track the games at another venue or online, explained Dave Daines, NuSkin vice president of human resources.
“We try to keep them here on campus,” he said. “Instead of going out to watch games, let’s stay here and watch games together.”
Embracing the situation, Daines said, “really helps long-term productivity.”
“We understand that today and tomorrow they will spend more time watching games,” he said. “But next week, we’ll get more productivity.”
The company has noticed that productivity has climbed year after year because workers are able have proper equilibrium between work and play, Daines noted, adding that employee tenure has increased over the years as more people have appreciated having an environment that allows for better work-life balance.
“That longevity increases productivity, it increases their effectiveness and knowledge,” he said. “This is a long-term investment.”
For Brandon McKinney, who has worked at NuSkin for nearly 17 years, being able to spend time at work having fun is a great perk.
“We work hard, but we play hard, too,” he said. “Then we follow that back up with continuing to work hard.”
As for lost productivity, one local analyst said taking the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em approach” can be successful, although perhaps not for workplaces that require an employee’s full attention.
“If you are helping to route traffic, if you are a cab or bus driver, you have to be extremely careful,” said Natalie Gochnour, economist and associate dean at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. “There are all sorts of occupations that have to be extremely careful about distractions.”
However, Gochnour noted that the amount of lost productivity during March Madness may not be a great as often estimated. She said companies that develop a way to use the event as a “team building” exercise can benefit in the long run.
“March Madness is a spectacular phenomenon that captures people’s imaginations,” she said. “Overall, I think it’s a healthy thing.”
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