So we all know better than to eat up work time doing personal tasks, right (whether we actually follow that advice or not)?  And surely we can all safely assume that gambling is frowned upon in the workplace.  But for some reason, as the ides of March approach almost every office in the country starts rolling out the March Madness brackets and organizing the office pool.  A couple of recent surveys have looked into whether the average employee has anything to worry about by participating.

Interestingly, 45 percent of American employees have participated in an office pool and the majority of those who have, placed their bets on the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, or March Madness.   From the eyes of management, these numbers may seem daunting as each employee’s participation in such pools has a direct result on his or her productivity.  When you consider that 45 percent of the American workforce’s productivity may dip in the month of March you are looking at significant possible economic consequences.

This productivity dip comes from a number of sources.  Employees regularly fill out their 64-team brackets for these office pools while at work.  Additionally, data shows that an increasingly large number of employees stream online video of various sports while at the office, with a considerable spike for the March Madness competitions.   Finally, we can’t overlook the time wasted in the good old American pastime of trash talking.  After all, what’s the point of an office pool without a little good humored competition?

However, despite this cumulatively considerable loss of productivity, almost half of American workers say their employers don’t have policies against office pools.   Why not?  Many managers say it’s because of the considerable benefit to their employees which March Madness provides.  Consider these numbers: 41 percent of managers think that March Madness activities in the workplace have a positive impact on employee morale  and 57 percent of employees who have participated in office pools have done so because they enjoy the office camaraderie.   When we consider how isolated many jobs have become with the advances in technology (think about it, most of us sit in front of a computer all day and interact with a mouse and maybe a phone), this boost in office camaraderie is sorely needed.

So do you have anything to worry about by participating?  You’re probably fine.  But it’s important to know the rules of your workplace to make sure that they don’t prohibit this kind of thing.  Don’t assume that just because your supervisor invited you to join, you aren’t doing anything wrong.  Otherwise, don’t spend an excessive amount of time filling out your brackets at work, and don’t get so passionately involved in the competition that you cross the line between a little workplace fun and unprofessional, inappropriate behavior.

The bottom line?  Be reasonable, but have fun.  Most companies see these pools as boosters of office morale so go forth and be boosted!  And by the way, good luck!