Even if you're not a basketball fan, you've likely heard co-workers obsessing over the annual NCAA tournament known as March Madness.
Office betting pools on the games - which culminate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Men's Basketball Championship on April 7 in San Antonio - are as much an annual workplace tradition as secret Santa gift exchanges.
Employers stand to lose about $1.7 billion during the 16 workdays that the tournament lasts, according to a study by Chicago-based staffing firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That figure is an estimate of the number of people participating in office pools, the amount of money wagered and the time wasted around the water cooler or online watching the games.
"We're looking at what basically 25 percent of the population is spending 10 minutes a day (on), and this is during the course of the workday," said Rick Cobb, an executive vice president with Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
Dawn Jones, a spokeswoman for Intel's chip fabrication plant in Chandler, said the company doesn't organize worker pools, but officials don't prevent employees from conducting their own.
"If it's something that's ... between two or three guys, I'm sure it's fine," she said. On average, employees waste 35 minutes a day tending to personal tasks, according to a survey by Robert Half International, a California-based staffing firm. That number increases by 25 percent during March Madness.
But instead of telling managers to crack down on employees, firm officials offer some surprising advice: Go ahead and let them do it.
"It's one of those opportunities you can have to build camaraderie in the office. I think there's a definite return on investment that you get with something like this," said Joe Mizzi, a local branch manager with Robert Half.
That return comes in the form of higher employee morale, which increases worker retention as well as productivity, he said.
"I think right now, especially in this job market, you can't rule with an iron fist," Mizzi added. "There's got to be give and take." Managers attempting to quash betting pools are probably wasting their time anyway, said Dan Delgato, director of operations for LazerWager.com, a gambling Web site.
Delgato said 27 percent of American employees participate in March Madness betting pools.
"When the managers aren't around, (workers) are going to do it anyway, so instead of having them waste time sneaking around, they've become more tolerant," he said.
Cobb acknowledged it may be fruitless for some firms to ban office betting.
"The effort required to prevent it on the part of organizations might be more costly than $1.7 billion," he said.