Should You Make Fantasy Football a Workplace Reality?

Bringing over some work from my professional life, here’s an article I did on fantasy football in the workplace:

Chances are good that many of your employees will participate in one, or seven, fantasy football leagues this fall. While employers worry about lost productivity, some HR experts believe an employer-sponsored league could benefit employee morale.

The first weekend of NFL preseason games is in the books, which means the start of football season is less than a month away. It also means that over the next several weeks, roughly 33 million wannabe general managers will be studying the stats and trends involving quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs as they prepare for their fantasy football league draft, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA).

Understandably, many employers dread this time of year. According to a “very rough, nonscientific, nonverifiable” study by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.—the same group that reported on the impact of March Madness on the workplace—fantasy football could cost U.S. employers roughly $6.5 billion in wages paid to unproductive workers over the course of a standard 15-week season.

But employers shouldn’t worry that work will come to a standstill. “It is important to realize that even if this figure was verifiable and accurate, it would not even register as a blip on the economic radar,” John A. Challenger, the firm’s CEO, said in a blog post. Further, “employers will not see any impact on their bottom line and, for the most part, business will proceed as usual.”

15%

The percentage of organizations that prohibit employees from participating in fantasy sports leagues, according to a recent survey [PowerPoint] by the Society for Human Resource Management. The top three areas HR professionals perceived are positively affected by office pools: relationship building (70 percent), team building (64 percent), and employee engagement (54 percent), SHRM found.

Accurate or not, that estimate—on top of FSTA data that shows fantasy football players can spend, on average, nine hours per week setting their rosters—might be enough to tempt employers to pull the plug on the whole operation. However, some human resources experts believe it could be a good thing for an employer to allow access to fantasy sports sites or even sponsor its own fantasy football league (of the non-betting variety).

In a recent article, HR Benefits Alert said the game could boost employee morale, increase interdepartmental communication, and improve customer relations.

“Fantasy football gives employees a reason to talk to other staffers they may not ordinarily talk to,” writes Christian Schappel, the website’s managing editor. “A sales rep may be able to talk to the CEO because their teams are playing each other, or an accountant may approach the head of marketing with a trade offer. It’s a catalyst for a level of communication some employees wouldn’t ordinarily have with each other.”

Despite his firm’s lost-productivity estimate, Challenger said employers that encourage participation in fantasy football leagues could actually see benefits. “An across-the-board ban on all fantasy football or sports websites could backfire in the form of reduced morale and loyalty. The result could be far worse than the loss of productivity caused by 10 to 20 minutes of team management each day,” he said.

How does your association approach fantasy football leagues in the workplace? And does the idea of sponsoring an office-wide league seem smart or make you cringe? Share your thoughts in the comments.

“Reprinted with permission. Copyright, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, August 14, 2013, Washington, DC.”

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