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It seems that each year in early March, I come across the same piece of “news” regarding a new study calculating the domestic productivity loss of the American worker due to time spent during work on the NCAA March Madness tournament.

This year I found it here, here and here (and this is just day 1 of the tournament), with the venerable firm of Challenger, Grey & Christmas providing us with the inconceivably large amount of $1.4 Billion of lost productivity. Looking at this impossibly large number, employers — like us! — should be up in arms, banning visits to sports web sites, ripping down the office pool and making sure that Wpromote is not losing it’s fraction of that $1.4 Billion!

Alas, when I manage to calm myself down, rational thought prevails. Specifically, a few of my gripes about these somewhat sensationalist journalistic techniques (throw out a big, easily quoted number into a headline and hope it is swallowed whole):

  • The calculation itself is a bit absurd. It goes something like this: Minutes Spent Per Day on basketball websites * pay per minute * days of the tournament * the working population = A huge number. However, this implies that all other factors remain untouched. In other words, it assumes that nobody stays later or cuts lunch short to make up for lost time and that people aren’t simply rearranging other periods of time that were otherwise “lost” on other time-wasting online endeavors.
  • The implication of putting an actual dollar value out there, in this case a whopping $1.4 Billion, is that this amount was somehow recoverable if there was no NCAA tournament or an employer took effective action in curbing the time wasted. I am sure if I think hard I can come up with a particular industry where time is at a fixed productivity level, and a worker is either 0% or 100% valuable for a fixed number of hours (a factory assembly line perhaps?) but I would argue these circumstances are few and far between. For most of America’s workplace, productivity is not an on-or-off switch but a sliding scale, one whose size varies drastically among employees of different abilities and ambition.

Happy, motivated employees produce far more than employees with all distractions eliminated. And after all, who is happier than the guy who just won the office pool!

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