“March Madness” Dream or Nightmare?

I know many of you are very large fans of UCONN Basketball, or other teams (are there any other?) and are loving the great winning streak the Women are having – 108 games to date – Wow! Now the playoffs are going on, and many in their private lives and some at their workplaces are setting up their “Brackets” and also gambling on the outcome of those playoffs (both women and men). Do you believe this is anything for Owners, Managers and HR professionals need to worry about?

You bet there is! Often people bring their strong sports preferences into the workplace, and it can cause feelings of inadequacy or loss if their team loses, and sometimes even strain relationships between co-workers and/or workers and managers. That can create a great problem on productivity or the organization as a whole. Even when they win, their focus is diverted towards the next game, or bracket, and the workplace projects seem to take a back seat.

Adding money to the situation (gambling – someone has to lose), escalates this to the next level, or sinks to the lower level, which may be a better analogy. If people are gambling at work, they may be breaking some organizational policies, and open the organization up for possible liability – all in the name of fun! Additionally, money difficulties between co-workers, especially between supervisors or managers and subordinates, can be a nightmare for an organization! Even having problems between peers in regard to gambled money can create tension and terrible problems for others around them, and the organization in general.

I have seen a few articles recently saying that organizations should foster this “March Madness” in order to get the workers behind something fun, and develop some camaraderie between workers to help “bond” them for team projects. As I agree this could happen, in some small segments of larger organizations, I find that in smaller ones, you already have that bond, or you don’t. This type of “Fun” activity may actually harm that camaraderie.

How, you ask? Well, many times people are forced into this type of activity even if they do not like to participate. They may like a different school, or a different sport altogether (or even no sport at all), and may feel “put upon” if they do not seem as enthusiastic as the rest. Then there are a few workers that may not have the disposable income to allow them to “risk” it on gambling, but they feel ostracized if they do not participate. Obviously, the leadership must be sensitive to all of their workers before they begin to suggest this type of thing take place, even outside of the workplace – with co-workers.

Then just when you think you have a good idea to make a cohesive team, and you wind up setting up your organization for unrest and possible liability! Liability you say – how? Well, if you allow gambling (which is illegal) and solicitation of brackets, etc., you can open up your workplace for union activity (if you do not already have one), or for others to come in and solicit something from your workers, because you set the stage. Additionally, as I stated, Gambling is illegal, and if you allow this on your premises, with your permission, you could leave yourself open for fines. When money is inserted into a fun activity, many people become upset, and someone could call the authorities which could open up a whole new liability. You may be surprised to hear that it could be the avid fan that calls the authorities – if they are the loser!

Add to all of these possible liabilities, the fact that a great deal of productivity will be lost as well during this time frame, and your business can take a back seat! Wow, how can a little fun turn into all of these problems for our organization you ask? Well, just break it down piece by piece, and you can see where it can all go down the drain if it is not carefully dealt with from an objective perspective.

Some of the best practices I suggest are:

  • Have policies for No Gambling on premises, and No Solicitation
  • Review them during this time to ensure they are still compliant
  • Communicate the policies to all in the organization without sounding like the “Fun Police”
  • Make sure all know WHY the policies were created in the first place- this is crucial!
  • Ensure all know the penalties for breaking the policies
  • Understand that people will be people and will engage in this type of activity, whether you approve or not!
  • Realize that productivity will be lost
  • Try to find a non-work place for people to engage in this activity, and ensure they know it can only be done on non-work time.

If you wish to get some further insight into this topic please view the YouTube presentation in this link, or watch the embedded video below. If you find you need some help with this or other HR situations, please visit our website www.KardasLarson.com to contact us and we will be happy to help!

Lois Krause
With 25+ years of experience, her HR strengths include labor law, employee relations, OD, and performance management. Lois has advanced HR certifications: MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP.

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