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March Madness 2012: Betting And Score-Watching May Be Good For Business

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Tommy Vietor, Robert Gibbs and President Barack Obama take part in a March Madness pool in 2009 -- a tactic to up White House productivity?
Tommy Vietor, Robert Gibbs and President Barack Obama take part in a March Madness pool in 2009 -- a tactic to up White House productivity?

Here's something for workers to cheer about: All the betting pools, glances at score updates and coffee chatter about the NCAA Tournament are good for an office -- they're even profitable, according to University of Richmond psychologist Donelson Forsyth.

"Certainly time will be taken away from tasks we're doing, but the gain in terms of energy and overall cohesiveness in the long run will have a positive yield," he told The Huffington Post on Tuesday.

The tournament begins in earnest on Thursday, triggering weeks of workplace distraction. Naysaying research points out the dribbled-away man hours wasted during the tournament; one study estimates $192 million in lost productivity. But the office pool and other tournament rituals can override a temporary dip in output, the professor explained.

"You learn a lot about people when you talk about brackets," Forsyth said. "Who makes decisions based on emotions? Based on loyalties? Who's strictly rational, picking only the first or second seeds?"

Forsyth published an essay last month on March Madness and other "collective crazes" in history. He referred to a 2011 Robert Morris University survey in which workers owned up to watching tournament games on company time, but viewed their jobs more positively in the long run. The survey also revealed that bosses who deny workers the guilty pleasures of March Madness will stir resentment that will last long after the final buzzer.

Forsyth is for anything that's within office rules -- even wearing T-shirts that represent one's favorite team. But those cheering for rival schools, say, Duke and North Carolina, might want to channel down the intensity to keep things civil around the water cooler.

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