March Madness is here. Even President Obama has filled out a NCAA Division I men's college basketball tournament bracket. His pick to win it all was Indiana University.
The bracket frenzy is unbelievable, says Deborah Stroman, who teaches sports administration at the University of North Carolina.
"Right after the selection show for the teams," she says, "within three hours, at least 693,000 brackets were filled out. So you can imagine everything that was taking place — everything from the research, to calling your friends, to placing bets."
But there is a cost. A recent study estimated the springtime mania costs American companies at least $134 million in the first two days alone. Fans all over the country know why: The games are simply too distracting.
Lucas Lux, a University of Kansas fan, told NPR, "If Kansas played at 12:15 p.m., there's no way I could work, and at that point it would probably have to be a vacation day."
But many employees try to multitask instead. Jerry Webber, the owner of a record shop in Pittsburgh, explained that at his shop they would watch the games during the workday. "Sometimes we drink beer and have a little bottle of bourbon and take a shot too," he said. "It's the illusion of working."
Stroman says the loss of worker productivity during March Madness has a lot to do with psychological investment in the games. "You have people who actually become so engaged with their teams that they take on the ownership of that team," she tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Don Gonyea.
She calls that effect, "basking in reflected glory," or "BIRG-ing." She says it can distract employees from their work for days or even weeks after a big win.
The opposite effect, she says, is called "cutting of reflected failure," or "CORF-ing," which is when a loss provokes depression in die-hard fans. This, too, distracts workers from their jobs.
But, Stroman says, there is a silver lining for employers. Some employees will turn only part of their attention to games during the workday, and others will likely come in early or stay late to make up for those distracted hours.
Some fans even say a win could make them better employees in the long run. Lux says March Madness is actually good for his productivity, but only if the University of Kansas wins.
"Especially if Kansas goes far in the tournament, I'll be stoked for the next 12 months," he says. After the team's win Friday night, he's BIRGing — at least for now.
DON GONYEA, HOST:
March Madness is here. Earlier this week, the president went on ESPN to fill out his bracket.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And for the championship, I'm going back to the Big 10. I think this is Indiana's year.
DEBORAH STROMAN: The bracket madness is unbelievable.
GONYEA: Deborah Stroman teaches sports administration at the University of North Carolina, a perennial basketball powerhouse.
STROMAN: Right after the selection show for the teams, within three hours, over 693,000 brackets were filled out. So you can imagine all that was taking place - everything from the research, to calling your friends, to making bets.
GONYEA: And that was before the games even began. A recent study estimated this springtime mania has cost American companies at least $134 million in the first two days alone, and you know why.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUCAS LUX: I'm Lucas Lux, and my team is the Kansas Jayhawks.
GONYEA: Lucas is a lawyer and a diehard fan.
LUX: If Kansas played at 12:15 p.m., there's no way I could work. And at that point, it'd probably have to be a vacation day.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
JERRY WEBER: Hi, my name is Jerry Weber. I own Jerry's Records in Pittsburgh, one of the largest all-vinyl record stores in the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WEBER: Yeah, we got a TV. We're going to go over there to the other side of the store. It's kind of a place where we watch basketball. We still work while we're doing this, but we watch basketball. Sometimes, we drink beer and maybe have a little bottle of bourbon there and take a shot too.
WEBER: It's the illusion of working, you know.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GONYEA: Deborah Stroman says there's something else going on.
STROMAN: You have people who actually become so engaged with their teams that they take on the ownership of that team. And that's called basking in reflected glory. So what you're doing is actually BIRGing. You take on the excitement, the wins of the team, and you take ownership to the extent that you're bragging at work. When the game is over, a day later, a week later, they're still wearing their favorite jerseys. They're a part of it.
GONYEA: OK. So you have basking in reflected glory, BIRGing. I understand you also have something called cutting off reflected failure, also known as CORFing. What is that?
STROMAN: Well, that's the depression. Your team loses, and you can't function well. You're not able to do your work. Your relationships are now a little cold because you're still caught up in the fact that your team lost. And oftentimes, when your team wins, it's my Tar Heels. But then when they lose, it's those Tar Heels, that team. You don't want to embrace them anymore. You want to cut off that reflected failure.
GONYEA: OK. So this really sounds like a lose-lose for employers in March. They can't stifle the fun because they're a killjoy. But if they embrace the fun, no work gets done. What are they to do?
STROMAN: Well, I think you should just embrace the time. Go ahead and have fun at work, allow people to do their brackets and spend a little time. It's been found that even though the productivity will change, that some people do have the ability to multitask. And then there are folks who will actually come in early or stay late to make up for their lost productivity during the typical workday.
GONYEA: I suspect those are outliers.
STROMAN: I do too.
GONYEA: That's Deborah Stroman. As for the fans, Lucas Lux says March Madness is actually good for his productivity, but only if Kansas wins.
LUX: Honestly, I'm a much better worker when you have things like March Madness going on, especially if Kansas goes far in the tournament. I will be stoked for the next 12 months.
GONYEA: After last night's win, he is basking in reflected glory - at least for now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPACE JAM")
QUAD CITY DJ'S: (Singing) Everybody get up it's time to slam now. We got a really jam going down. Welcome to the space jam, space jam.
GONYEA: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.