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The Boston Globe

Business

March Madness can be a workplace challenge in a smartphone age

Say what you will about the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the most part, they are played during off-duty hours and have minimal impact on the workplace. But in an era of smartphones and iPads, the upcoming March Madness college basketball tournament has the potential to reduce the number of RPMs that workers might otherwise crank out on the boss’s hamster wheel.

Looking to provide employers with thoughtful advice on how to handle the hoop madness ahead, the firm of J.J. Keller & Associates Inc. has just issued a paper that poses the question more succinctly, “Will March Madness boost workplace morale or drain productivity?”

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Workplace distractions could certainly spike as the roughly three-week tournament unfolds, especially next week when many daytime games are set to be played, said J.J. Keller, a Wisconsin firm that helps companies comply with safety and regulatory issues.

“Not long ago, employees who wanted to see early round games broadcast live had to dedicate a vacation day or two to lying on the couch, TV clicker in hand,” writes Terri Dougherty, an associate editor at J.J. Keller. “Now, all 67 tournament games can be viewed live for a small fee from a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device.”

The fact that employees can now keep hoop action under near constant surveillance on such devices can present challenges for employers who fret about a game-time drop in productivity, according to Dougherty.

And employed basketball fans should be on notice. Some companies monitor and audit employee Internet use.

The report references some workplace advice from Katie Loehrke, editor of J.J. Keller’s Employment Law Today newsletter.

“A reminder to employees around this time of year about policies may be all it takes to curb the kind of overzealous participation that kills productivity,” Loehrke noted. “No matter what the distraction, employees should always be held to the same standard of performance. If they can’t be part of a March Madness pool and still be productive, discipline may well be in order.”

And the thought leaders at J.J. Keller also had this to say: “Rather than trying to quash employee access to scores and games, employers might want to consider how they can make interest in the tournament work to their advantage. A company-wide pool that allows employees to fill out the brackets for fun – and does not involve cash prizes or an entry fee – could be an ice-breaker, and chatter about last-second victories and upsets offers an opportunity for employee bonding.”

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.

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