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NCAA Tournament 2012 means distracted workers. What's an employer to do?

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“I can’t think of an external event that draws more people’s attention during the workday like the NCAA Tournament does in the US,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm. “The Super Bowl, the Olympics don’t compare to this.”

The ubiquitous YouTube.com even has a video on how to watch March Madness at work without getting caught. One tip: Schedule early-morning meetings to free up basketball time in the afternoon. “Just remember to keep a low profile,” it warns.

Online viewing of March Madness could add up to more than 2.5 million unique visitors a day, each spending an average of 90 minutes watching games, Mr. Challenger estimates, using last year's numbers as a guide. In 2011, 20 percent of all workers, or some 30 million Americans, participated in an office pool to pick the Final Four, according to Harris Interactive. Challenger, partly tongue-in-cheek, estimates that workers distracted by March Madness will cost employers about $175 million in work left undone, over just the first two days of the tournament.

One reason Challenger's calculation might be on the conservative side is the shift in technology. Five years ago, most office workers could watch games only on television or perhaps on their desktop computers. Today, workers can use their smart phones to monitor scores or even to watch live streaming video, if they subscribe to that. 

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