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Media advisory: Managing March Madness in the workplace

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas researchers Kristie Rogers and Niki den Nieuwenboer, assistant professors of organizational behavior in the School of Business, are available to speak with media about management implications for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Research suggests March Madness costs businesses millions in lost wages. An estimated 3 million U.S. employees will spend one to three hours at work watching the games, and two-thirds of all workers will follow the tournament at some point during work hours.

Q: Is there an advantage to celebrating March Madness in the workplace?

Rogers: March Madness provides an opportunity for workgroups to build a cohesive culture by celebrating something that excites employees, which can increase employees’ commitment and attachment to their co-workers and the organization. This is consistent with what researchers call a “clan culture,” which is people-focused, collaborative and may even be described as “family-like.”

Many employees tend to value such cultures, and their commitment pays dividends for the organization far beyond the month of March when relationships are stronger between colleagues and between the employee and his or her organization.

One recent example is the firm Edward Jones, which works to maintain a clan culture by celebrating a variety of events at work. The company was rated No. 4 of Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For in 2014 and No. 6 in 2015, and it has one of the lowest turnover rates in the financial industry at just 8 percent.

Q: What does the tournament illustrate about workplace ethics?

Nieuwenboer: If people spend time watching games while at work without their employer’s knowledge or consent, this would be an example of “cyberloafing,” which is defined as any voluntary act of employees using their companies’ Internet access during office hours to surf non job-related websites for personal purposes.

Cyberloafing essentially comes down to what we call time theft: Employees are stealing time — and therefore money — from their companies because they are spending working time doing non work-related things. Companies should be somewhat flexible about allowing employees to spend time doing non-work related things, but as our daily lives increasingly take on online formats (online banking, shopping, news, watching television), companies have to compete for their employees’ attention while at work more and more.

Q: How can managers balance the need for productivity with the value of a positive work environment?

Nieuwenboer: The question is how much is too much cyberloafing. Watching entire games online might just be too much of a good thing. It’s important for companies to be clear about what they expect of their employees. Companies may want their managers to agree on how much distraction is acceptable and what is too much.

Q: Do employees make up time for spent cyberloafing?

Nieuwenboer: Research suggests employees tend to engage in a rationalization we call “metaphor of the ledger.” They justify doing something bad — cyberloafing — by pointing out that they also already, in the past, did something good (e.g., working overtime without pay). It is as if people earn “good credits” by going good that they spend on bad things.

Q: The digital nature of work blurs boundaries between work and personal life. How does that factor during March Madness?

Rogers: Employees value autonomy in their jobs, or the freedom to influence their work environment, and feel independent in how they carry out their tasks. In general, those who have enough autonomy to make the choice between watching a game or focusing on their job during work hours are the same individuals who are salaried and often managed by deliverables rather than hourly productivity. This means that whether they spend two hours of their afternoon concentrating on their work or keeping tabs on a game, their deadlines and deliverables remain the same.

In other words, the work doesn’t just go away. This is why a workday filled with distractions often means an evening of working from home, or an early morning in the office to make up for it.

To schedule an interview with Kristie Rogers or Niki den Nieuwenboer, contact Austin Falley at 785-864-3852 or afalley@ku.edu.

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