From a productivity standpoint, the next few weeks are not the finest moments for America's workforce. It's estimated that the country's companies lose a combined $2 billion due to workers watching March Madness games when they should be working, if they even bother to show up for work at all.
In many ways, the NCAA men's basketball tournament has become a national holiday unrecognized by our government. Thus, the lowly worker bee is forced to find its own way to celebrate the occasion. If you're a basketball fan, you have been drafted into this war: Your employer and your allegiance to sport stand in direct conflict with one another.
Some will choose to call in sick. A tip: Don't do this. If you're serious enough about March Madness to even consider skipping work for the games, it means your co-workers already have a betting pool on whether you'll actually show up to the office. Nobody's going to believe that you've been suddenly laid up with the flu. If you want to mitigate any problems in the workplace, you've got to get a little more creative.
Yes, you have to go to work. But that doesn't mean you can't watch the games.
1. Accept the things you cannot change.
To start off: You will go to work, and you will technically be performing your work duties. But you will not be the most productive person on tournament days, nor should you hold yourself to that standard. Every reasonable employer understands that March Madness is a celebration subsidized by the country's businesses.
Your occasional distractions don't make you a bad person -- they make you an American.
Don't worry about productivity. Just worry about workplace perceptions. It doesn't matter how much you actually get done, it only matters what your boss thinks of your performance.
2. Get your boss to join your office bracket pool.
March Madness is a sickness. Infect those above you and you'll have a much better experience. Regardless of your boss's investment into the tournament, if you can get them into a bracket pool, you can open up a big chunk of time to follow the games. This is mostly because your boss will try to hold you to a higher standard than they themselves can meet.
If your boss is invested in the games, they'll want to follow along. And then you won't have to boldly eschew productivity yourself -- you can just follow the lead of your higher-ups.
3. Use your phone -- but use it wisely.
Even with the boss button, which allows users to toggle from game action to a screen showing generic business charts and spreadsheets, streaming video on your work desktop can be risky. Smartphones may never be more valuable than they are during the tournament. Apps will make the games available for streaming, but you can't zone out and watch your three-inch screen all day. A better balance is to track the games on your work computer, and then turn to video streaming when games hit crunch time.
Of course, the phone is great when you can steal away to somewhere private. While this isn't the right time to call in sick, it's the perfect occasion to board yourself up in a bathroom stall on account of too much fondue the night before. People might be suspicious, but challenging the merits of someone's bathroom issues is an extreme well beyond whatever misdemeanor you might be committing.
3a. Bring your phone charger to work.
You're gonna need it.
4. Consider turning the tournament into a team-building event.
The value of workplace morale can't be underestimated, and it's worth bringing this up to your boss ahead of the games. If productivity will be at a low, the company could still get something out of the tournament by using it as a team-building event.
Allowing long lunches to go catch a game, or closing shop early and hosting a workplace happy hour, can build goodwill among employees. It's worth at least pitching to your boss.
5. Finish your work in non-basketball hours.
If you've got a job where you're tackling a to-do list instead of punching a timecard, you can compensate for poor daytime productivity by catching up after games are played in the evenings. Your boss may give you a sideways glance when you're busy streaming games, but if you're all caught up on work by Monday, you'll likely avoid any problems.
6. Avoid being the biggest fan in the office.
Someone's going to set the tone. Someone will be catching attentions. People will be watching to see where the line is. Don't be the person who finds the line and crosses it. Don't be a hero. Attention comes with a big burden -- find the biggest March Madness fan in your office and coast behind them in relative anonymity.
7. When all else fails, schedule a surgery.
I'm not recommending you fake appendicitis or decide you can live without your gallbladder. But if you've got a genuine reason to go under the knife, you could do worse than spending your post-op recovery laid up watching basketball games.
Don't worry, I'm not inventing this. ESPN reported in 2014 that some doctors see an increase in vasectomies in the days leading up to the tournament. And why? Well, if you've got to snip-snip, might as well put that recovery time to good use.
This year, my dad's making such a strategy work for him. He's got a minor procedure that will lay him up for a couple days of rest and healing. So of course he's scheduled for surgery on Wednesday. He's a Kansas fan, and the title chase of his No. 1 seed Jayhawks will do plenty to help him forget any lingering pain or discomfort.
For the rest of us, we'll have to do our best from our ergonomic office chairs.