It happens in the middle of March. Office workers who never use spreadsheets are suddenly poring over charts, doing deep analysis, sweating over their predictions. What has come over them? Madness. March Madness a.k.a. the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament. Every company with more than one worker has an office pool going and it extends well beyond that. Excited huddles gather around the water cooler, employees take longer lunches and streaming coverage of the games light up office computers.

March Madness

But as managers witness this flurry of activity, they may be less worried about the latest score and more concerned about company team performance.

Hello, March Madness-Goodbye, Workplace Productivity

Employer anxiety about workplace productivity during the three week basketball spree is pretty dead on. At least 3 million people will spend one to three work hours per day watching the game and over 50 million Americans participate in March Madness office pools. With so many employees obsessively live-streaming games, checking stats and debating Arizona’s chances without Brandon Ashley, slower email response times, lower meeting attendance and prolonged breaks should come as no surprise.

No Cinderella Story for Companies’ Bottom Lines

Employee distraction during the NCAA Tournament comes at a price. A recent study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. estimates that March Madness could cost companies $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week alone. For managers, team stats are not the only numbers to watch during the 67 games.

Streaming Videos Are a Real Drag (On Company Networks)

Employee distraction during the frenzy of March Madness isn’t the sole cause of lowered workplace productivity. With all those streaming videos slowing down company networks, the NCAA Tournament can be a real headache for an IT department. A 2012 survey by the IT recruiting company Modis found that 41% of IT professionals said March Madness put a significantly extra burden on their network, with 34% reporting it actually crashed the system altogether.

These statistics can have employers running scared. Modis reports that one-third of office IT departments are planning on blocking, banning or slowing down streaming March Madness videos. Twenty-nine percent of IT professionals even believe that company policies regarding streaming content will only get stricter in the coming years.

Nail-Biting Numbers Not What You Think

With all these dire statistics, what is a company to do during the three-week tournament? It turns out-nothing. While the numbers may look shocking, March Madness’s loss of productivity doesn’t even register a blip on a company’s bottom line or the national economy. When it comes to hours lost to the lure of the games, managers have no need to worry. Many workers will compensate by putting in extra time at the beginning or end of the day.

Let Games Be a Slam-Dunk for Company Morale

When it comes to March Madness, managers should welcome this three-week break in the normal office routine. The NCAA tournament offers a great opportunity to raise employee morale, especially after a winter crush of polar vortexes and seemingly endless snow storms. Even Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, suggests disregarding the numbers and harnessing the positive power of March Madness:

“Use March Madness as a tool to increase employee engagement. Promoting a company-wide office pool that is free to enter, for example, could help boost camaraderie and encourage interaction among co-workers who may not typically cross paths. Relax dress codes and allow workers to wear sweatshirts and t-shirts in support of their favorite team.”

So don your team colors. Stop at your neighbor’s cubicle and chat about the “new” Big East. Only one college basketball team can cut down the net at the end of the three week extravaganza. But companies that embrace the season come out the real March Madness champions.