Don't fight March Madness, enjoy it

Q: What do you think of March Madness in the office? We tolerate it in our busy law office because we have to, but we don't really like it. — Mary

A: And people ask me why I don't practice law anymore!

Sure, we all know that basketball hysteria this time of year gets in the way of things. Folks fill out their brackets, watch games online and chat about how they are doing.

The most recent issue of Newsweek values the lost productivity at about $1.7 billion. But isn't that losing the forest for the trees? It's not big-picture thinking.

Figures like that assume people are busy little bees while at work, humming along, doing their job all day, consistently and persistently productive.

But that's not reality, is it? You work, you surf the net, you work, you get some coffee, you work, you go out for lunch, you work, you take a break, you chat, you work, you go home. Right?

So, while March Madness may, theoretically, get in the way of productivity, all it really does is take the place of something else that employees would be doing instead of work.

And in any case, the good that March Madness does easily outweighs any bad. For starters, the camaraderie that comes with bracketology is invaluable. The best workplaces are ones where employees get along, work together, and strive for the common good of the enterprise.

March Madness fosters that.

People who might normally not talk to each other find a reason to get to know each other. It gives people something to talk about other than work. It promotes teamwork and makes your office a more pleasant place to work.

People work for all sorts of reasons. We work for money, to socialize, to get ahead, for benefits, to learn skills, to be productive, for self-worth. Assuming that the only thing your staff is supposed to think and talk about is work misses the boat.

And once you appreciate that work is about more than just work, you can begin to create an exceptional workplace. And know this too: Once your staff knows you want them to be satisfied whole bees and not just busy little worker bees, they will bend over backwards for you.

It's ironic – the harder you push, the less you will probably get. It is sort of like trying too hard when you golf. You know that is when you do the worst. But as soon as you let go and trust, things flow easier.

Well, that is what March Madness is about.

Sure, it has somewhat to do with the greatest sport ever invented, basketball, but equally, it has to do with treating employees like adults, letting them have some fun, trusting them enough to know their work will still get done, not being a jerk, and promoting workplace unity.

Great small businesses value something bigger than the bottom line. They value values. That is why March Madness at work should not just be tolerated, but encouraged. It is about creating the kind of business everyone likes to go to every day ... or almost every day!

Someone should figure out a way to measure the value of having a happy workplace. If that ever happens we would see that whatever March Madness costs in productivity is made up, and then some, by increased goodwill and loyalty.

So the only thing left to say is. .. Go UCLA!

Today's Tip: According to the Baltimore Business Journal, "Nearly half of U.S. workers have participated in office pools, and nearly one-quarter have watched or followed sports events on their computers at work, according to a recent survey by Spherion Corp."

Are you really going to be able to stop the tidal wave? And if you do, at what cost? Better bet: Harness and ride it.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com.And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —www.mrallbiz.com.

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