Written by Eric Pollak

March Madness is in full swing and for many Americans this means 3 weeks of NCAA college basketball, brackets, betting, and lost work time. According to the employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, approximately 50 million Americans participate in March Madness pools, costing employers an estimated $1.2 billion dollars in lost productivity.  Furthermore, the FBI reports that March Madness generates $2.5 billion in illegal bets each year. However, there are many positive effects of this annual tradition, which are often overlooked. As a March Madness fan myself, I’d like to shed some well deserved light on the benefits of the great tournament.

March Madness facilitates conversation between colleagues and can create an environment of camaraderie. Communication is an integral aspect of the work atmosphere, even if it’s about topics unrelated to work. Through these exchanges and dialogue, the NCAA tournament can aid in boosting worker morale. According to a 2010 survey, 41 percent of managers polled reported that March Madness increased employee happiness.

The increased social bonds created through March Madness are not limited to relationships in the work place, but extend their benefits to interpersonal relationships in general. Studies have found that sports provide a common ground for people to be able to relate to one another and connect in ways that would otherwise not be possible. Daniel Wann, Pd.D., a professor of psychology at Murray State University, explains “being a fan gives us something to talk about, to share and bond with others and for the vast majority of people, it’s psychologically healthier when you can increase social connections with others”. Regardless of whether you are a lifelong diehard or a once a year fan, the tournament creates a social forum for people to discuss, analyze, and debate.

Research has demonstrated time and time again that there is a correlation between feeling connected to others and greater happiness. Just as food and shelter are essential foundational components of our lives, so are friendships and social connections. Regardless of whether one connects to family, spouses, friends, or work colleagues, each of these relationships can impact our experience of happiness. Feeling connected to a group or community also provides us with a sense of identity, as it helps us feel that we are part of something. So, rooting for a particular team or one’s alma mater can allow one to feel part of something greater than themselves and thus a greater sense of happiness. Additionally, researchers have found that people are happier when they are in the company of others, than when they are alone. Throughout the three weeks of the March Madness tournament people tend to gather to watch the games and have shared experiences, which can also boost levels of happiness.

Many employers are aware of the aforementioned benefits and have started to utilize the tournament for team building and enhancing morale in the office by encouraging employees to complete brackets and watch the games together. For those employers that don’t allow employees to watch, I am by no means sanctioning employees using their work time to watch college basketball without employer consent. However, psychologically savvy supervisors will certainly recognize that the benefits of March Madness tend to offset the potential drawbacks

The Madness is here! Let’s embrace it and utilize it as an opportunity to increase our social connections and thus our happiness. The probability of picking a perfect bracket has been estimated to be 9.2 quintillion to 1. Fortunately, the odds of one benefiting from the social and communal nature of the tournament are much greater!


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