Christmas came early this year for Grinches seeking a data-backed reason to block all non-work related websites in the name of improving worker productivity.

Every March for the last handful of years, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. has published the Challenger March Madness Productivity Report to shine a less than flattering light on virtual playtime in the workplace, under the umbrella of financial stewardship and improving productivity. This year’s report contends:

  • viewership during work hours is likely to reach at least 8.4 million hours;
  • with average private-sector hourly earnings of $22.87, the financial impact exceeds $192 million;
  • last year, Challenger estimated that lost productivity would cost employers $1.8 billion in lost wages paid to unproductive workers.

While the numbers seem to make a great case for ending the Madness at work, the authors were quick to point out that these figures are accounting for less than one-tenth of one percent (about 0.07 percent) of the total hours American workers will put in over the three weeks of the tournament.

Stop the Madness!
As it turns out, the picking teams of teams at work, printing out of brackets on company copiers, checking scores like a caffeinated ferret instead of working or just shamelessly streaming the games outright with the “boss is coming” panic button under your thumb isn’t that much of a drag on productivity.  This has even led some to take a leap into the absurd by advocating the value of the NCAA Tournament  as a workplace team builder and productivity booster. (@darrenrovell, you’re smarter than this.)

It all got me thinking about how disproportionate the productivity bulls-eye is on March Madness versus the time-sucking business practices, processes and applications that fracture worker attention spans every hour, every day, and every month of the year.

How many have of you spend hours swimming around your corporate SharePoint portal for a vital report, only to come up empty handed? Or are forced to sift through 250 emails each Monday morning only to discover that maybe 20 were relevant to you?

Something to Actually be Mad About
Would it surprise you to know that not just in March, but in each month there is productivity madness in the workplace that has nothing to do with basketball? Consider this:

A study published way back in 2002 by Cubesmart, Inc, hit the web again recently, calling out that in the pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook and pre-iPhone Age, we experienced on average  seven interruptions in an hour. It’s fair to say that our collective attention span at work is exponentially more frayed today, with or without hoops.

And it isn’t just  a poorly written, untargeted, shotgun distributed or unfiltered e-mail that’s killing productivity. It’s the time it takes to get back on track.

A more recent study by Basex titled The Cost of Not Paying Attention estimates that the U.S. economy suffers a cost of $588 billion each  year because of interruptions at work.

Looking Beyond Productivity Scapegoats
At Attensa, we’re looking at a bigger picture beyond college basketball or the annoying coworker who follows up her email with a personal visit to your cube to reenact it for you.

In fact, all of us here are either March Madness fans or wholly hoops agnostic. We’re in the business of building the tools that help maximize attention in the workplace by delivering personal relevance — all year round.  You’ll find our take on maximizing attention here.

Until I interrupt you again,
Mark