03/17/2013 11:19 am ET Updated Mar 21, 2013

March Madness Watchers To Cost Businesses $134 Million In Just The First Two Days: Study

Don't be surprised if it feels like your co-workers aren't working as hard as usual over the next few weeks. March Madness -- or that time of the year when people fill out brackets and watch basketball games at the office -- is here.

An estimated 3 million American workers will spend one to three hours a day during work watching the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament, according to a study from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. While 14 percent of employees surveyed said they would spend three to four hours per day watching the tournament, 16 percent said they would spend five hours or more.

As workers everywhere glue themselves to their office television screens, Americans companies stand to lose at least $134 million in “lost wages” just in the first two days of the tournament alone.

“It is surprising when you see just how big the numbers are and how big the impact can be,” Chief Executive Officer John A. Challenger told The Huffington Post. “We know that because games take place during the work day and with the Internet so widespread now, its easy for workers to get distracted."

Some employees do more than just secretly watch the games in the office. Seven percent of survey respondents said that they would take time off to watch the tournament and 12 percent admitted they had called in sick in the past to ensure they didn't miss their favorite game.

Despite the apparent prevalence of tournament watching, Challenger said employers are making a good, albeit expensive, long-term investment by allowing their employees to watch the games. By giving workers the freedom to go online during the workday and do something other than work, employers have the potential to increase their employees' happiness, which could lead to higher worker output.

"It takes managers taking a step back and recognizing that today really we measure people's output in the amount of work people do and the quality of work they do rather than the time they spend actually doing the work itself," he said.

Of course March Madness isn't the only thing distracting employees. In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that workers get interrupted and distracted every three minutes while on the job.

Even the man with one of the most important jobs in the country devotes a considerable amount of attention to March Madness: President Barack Obama . House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently made a dig at the President, suggesting he spends more time "filling out his March Madness brackets" than "writing a budget."



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