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How fantasy football can be a cost and a benefit at the office

Posted September 15

Fantasy football can drain a company’s productivity, costing employers an estimated $16.8 billion over the course of the season. But could factors such as employee morale and networking with clients offset that projected loss?

For those not caught up in the pastime, fantasy football is where a person sets up a team from the list of best players in the NFL, a team that then participates in a weekly competition. The team’s performance drives up their "manager’s" fantasy point total.

More than two-thirds of fantasy football players are full-time employees, consultants Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. recently reported. An estimated 38.5 million Americans “could be managing their fantasy teams during work hours.” Just an hour of wasted work time each week for the 17 weeks of the football season leads to an estimated $17 billion in lost productivity.

“On the surface, that seems like a lot of money,” CEO John Challenger stated in a press release. “But in the overall economy, it is really just a drop in the bucket (…) if anything, fantasy football is a plus for the economy.”

But an exact figure is difficult to calculate because “there is no way to determine how many people are managing their teams from work or how long they are spending on these activities,” Challenger noted. It’s also difficult to measure work hours with so much happening outside the office as people’s personal and work lives intermingle, he continued.

"So even if the guy in the next cube over is fiddling with his roster over the course of the day, there’s no way to tell if he’s making that time up later, fielding emails from the sidelines of his kids’ (real-life) football game, or addressing the concerns of a client several time zones away," Time.com noted.

Participants spend a yearly average of $556 to cover league dues, research costs, online memberships and other expenses, the Challenger release explained. This generates $31.9 billion for the economy, although the broken window fallacy means it can’t be discounted that this money would have gone toward something else instead of fantasy football.

Perhaps greater than the economic benefits is the effect fantasy football can have on raising employee morale and keeping turnover low, Challenger noted.

The blog businessmole reported that recent research from human resources firm Peninsula found that 62 percent of employees’ morale was boosted by their involvement in an office fantasy football league, with 49 percent of respondents also stating that it helped build co-worker relationships.

Business2community.com suggested that involvement in fantasy football could also be used to win new business and bond with pre-existing clients.

Future business prospects that you want to ply with inconsequential talk can be invited into a special league with other professionals they may want to network with, it explained. And top clients can be invited to a special league, with a company’s products or services offered as a prize.

“It’s no different than taking potential clients out to dinner or a ballgame, really,” the website said, calling fantasy football a “cheaper, easier and longer-lasting” alternative.

WGNTV published some tips last year on how to better integrate fantasy football into the workplace.

  • Don’t allow fantasy play to crowd out actual work, and don’t be the “outlier” by focusing on it overmuch, compared to co-workers.
  • Don’t trash-talk, instead keeping play-related communications respectful to avoid charges of bullying or harassment.
  • Check in with the boss on work to ensure that you’re meeting all expectations, especially if they are not fantasy players.
  • Expand water cooler conversation so non-players don’t feel left out.
  • For bosses: don’t discipline employees “without first doing your homework,” to ensure that certain people aren’t being singled out over other playing employees.

Email: smanderson@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @Sarahsonofander.

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