In years past, employers looked at March Madness with disdain – a time of reduced productivity and distracted employees.

But, this year, some analysts say companies should welcome – even encourage – sports distractions.

“In this economy, employees are disinclined to do anything that might put their jobs at higher risk than they already are,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm. “Meanwhile employers have bigger issues to address than whether a few workers are using work time to fill out betting pool brackets or sneaking peeks at games online.”

In fact, Challenger said companies would be better served by allowing this “minor distraction.”

“With worker stress and anxiety on the rise as job security declines, a little distraction could be just what the doctor ordered,” he said. “The key for companies is finding a way to maximize the positive aspects of March Madness so they outweigh any perceived negatives.”

Companies should use the event to build morale and camaraderie – offsetting productivity losses, Challenger said.

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Some suggested March Madness morale boosters:

Hold team sweatshirt day: Relax the dress code for the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament so that fans can wear the sweatshirt of their favorite college team.
Offer flexible schedules: On the four days when tournament games are played during work hours, allow workers the opportunity to arrive early so they can work a full shift and still leave in time to see the games.
Organize a company pool: Employees can enter free of charge and the winner is given a gift certificate to a restaurant or store.
Keep a bracket posted: For employers without company-wide Internet access, keep a large, updated tournament bracket in a common area so workers can check their teams’ progress.
Stay tuned: Keep television in break room tuned to coverage to eliminate the need for workers to sneak peeks online, which can slow everyone’s internet connection as bandwidth is constricted.