Friday, September 5, 2014

Touchdown or workplace penalty: Does Fantasy Football belong in the workplace?

NFL kickoff is finally here. Say goodbye to pre-season practice games and hello to the new season.

Football fans everywhere are priming up their television sets, laptops, and other electronic devices to watch the season’s gridiron battle tonight. Tonight is the night weeks of hard work and preparation finally shift into gear and move forward – for fantasy football that is.

No doubt, countless Americans have already paid their fantasy football league dues, completed their drafts, and are primed to jump into this season’s most competitive electronic sports phenomenon.

Trust me when I say your avid fantasy football league participants take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears getting their season ready. To a certain extent, it would defy common sense to think that over the next few months they would leave fantasy football safely away in their parked cars in the parking lot. So why shouldn’t fantasy football be allowed in the workplace? It’s pretty harmless, right?

Logically speaking, one would think that fantasy football would harm productivity during the season and would be problematic in the workplace.

That’s true if not managed properly, but maybe it’s time to explore the benefits of incorporating fun activities like fantasy football into the workplace to increase productivity and employee morale.

According to the Fantasy Trade Association, about 32 million Americans spend $467 per person -- $15 billion total -- playing fantasy football. The hopes of paying minimal and possibly winning more drives energy, excitement and participation for a period of three to four months on average.

Trust me when I say one of those 32 million Americans is probably one or more employees within your company. This means you have employees excited, engaged and participating in a competitive team or league modeled environment. Imagine incorporating that type of model into the workplace – what would the results be?

The answer is pretty easy, at least in my mind. If managed properly, fantasy football could have a very positive impact on the workplace. Employees who have never interacted before suddenly have a common bond, common interest and a place to start building work relationships. Increased interaction, relationship building and team-building does increase productivity and creates a more positive work environment. Employees feel like they are a part of something beyond their job title at work, which creates camaraderie.

The key is, it has to be managed properly, which can be challenging. Not everyone loves football, nor do they want to participate in fantasy football. So that same sense of belonging for some employees can bring alienation among those who do not participate. While productivity may increase in some areas, it may decrease in others.

It also can be a huge time waster during the day. Think of the countless hours dedicated to Internet searches, phone calls and “meetings” in the workplace. Hard to say but it is certain that time management and wasted time is an issue.

Last of all, fantasy football for money is essentially gambling, which is illegal in the workplace. This means the “stakes” have to be lowered if introduced in the workplace. Management would be forced to be “creative” with the ultimate prize for the league champion, which easily could be free lunch, gift card, prizes, etc.
While fantasy football may not have a place in the workplace unless it is the right culture and employee base – and managed carefully by management or human resources professionals -- it should help engage and inspire management to create programs and incentives that have the same impact that fantasy football has outside the workplace.

Monica Bitrick is CEO of Bitrick Consulting Group, an Idaho Falls human resources consulting company.