NCAA Tournament to cost employers $192 million in lost productivity

If you plan to watch the Big East game this afternoon, you will be part of the group estimated to cost employers $192 million on lost productivity.

That's according to the 2011 March Madness Productivity Report by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. The report estimates workers will spend more than 8 million hours watching games in their offices. Will you be one of them?

With the Big East Tournament underway and the S.U. Men's Basketball team facing off against St. John's at 2 p.m. today, all eyes will be glued to television sets and the Internet. And the distractions won't end anytime soon. The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament lasts for three weeks.

The report estimates total online viewership during work hours will likely reach at least 8.4 million hours during this year's Tournament. Because of that, companies are expected to take a financial hit. The report estimates that financial impact to exceed $192 million. Last year, the Tournament cost employers an estimated $1.8 billion in lost wages paid to unproductive workers.

Last year, attracted 8.3 million unique visitors, who enjoyed a total of 11.7 million hours of online video and audio coverage. That was up 36 percent from the previous year. The majority of that happened during the first four days of the Tournament.

Even more people are expected to follow the Tournament online this year with CBS Sports providing free mobile apps. The report estimates 20 percent more people will be following along online.

"At first glance, 8.4 million hours of lost productivity seems like it would deliver a crushing blow to the economy," said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. "However...the 8.4 million hours lost to March Madness is a relative drop in the bucket, accounting for less than one-tenth of one percent of the total hours American workers will put in over the three weeks of the tournament."

In an effort to keep employees focused, some companies have blocked access to streaming content of all type. Other employers are concerned about the legal and/or moral implications of allowing or even sponsoring gambling activities on company premises.

According to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, about 33 percent of companies have policies prohibiting workplace gambling, but only 6 percent actually disciplined or terminated an employee for violating the policy.

"Rather than try to squash employee interest in March Madness, companies could try to embrace it as a way to build morale and camaraderie," Challenger said. "This could mean putting televisions in the break room, so employees have somewhere to watch the games other than the Internet."

Will you be watching the games at work? Does your company allow it? If you're a manager, will you let your employees watch at work? Do you think it really impacts productivity and the bottom line? Leave your thoughts below.