You’re living in a fantasy world if you think your employees aren’t playing fantasy football

Chris Morehead

Is your business ready for fantasy football season? Because chances are that many of your employees have gleefully welcomed its arrival.

According to a recent study conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global employment consulting firm, employers will lose an estimated $16 billion (yes, that’s “billion” with a “b”) in lost wages due to employees managing their fantasy football teams during business hours. That number is based on an estimated record 56.8 million fantasy football enthusiasts – 37.5 million of whom are employed full-time – taking an hour out of each work week for the course of the 17-week fantasy season. And those numbers are growing annually. The bottom line is that fantasy football is not going anywhere anytime soon. Employers need to be aware of the growing fantasy football frenzy and what can (or should) be done to help mitigate its impact.

“Gambling” at the workplace and on company time is obviously a concern for employers. And while some fantasy football betting may be considered illegal under state or federal law, the reality is that it is unlikely that the feds are interested in dismantling a $500 office pool. Rather, loss of productivity is probably one of your company’s biggest concerns when it comes to fantasy football leagues in the workplace.

So, what can be done to stop employees from benching Cam Newton in favor of Russell Wilson while on company time? One option (not necessarily recommended) is to take a hard line approach and ban fantasy football in the workplace altogether. This can be accomplished by strictly enforcing non-recreational Internet-use policies. Employers can demand that employees focus exclusively on their job duties during the workday and discipline those employees who play fantasy sports while working, provided such actions are done on a consistent basis and in accordance with clear, written company polices.

If you want to take such a hard line approach, you should also understand that employees can just as easily use their smartphones to manage their fantasy teams, and you probably won’t even catch them using company computers to do their drafting and weekly roster selections. So taking a hard line might not really get you anywhere anyway.

If that level of rule enforcement isn’t really your company’s style, perhaps you are the employer that accepts the reality that many employees will, inevitably, check the weather, do some shopping and jump onto their personal email accounts any given workday, whether on a company machine or their smartphones. So if they check their fantasy football lineup to make sure Tom Brady hasn’t been re-suspended just prior to kickoff, you’ll realize that isn’t that much different.

Provided that expectations are still being met, why discipline an employee simply because he or she is managing a fantasy team? You might ask yourself: do I check Facebook, Pinterest or the news while at work? A workplace with managers who set the same expectations for themselves as they have of their subordinates is generally appreciated and fosters loyalty.

Some employers might even go the extra mile and encourage employees to participate in office fantasy leagues as a team-building exercise. Some studies suggest that short periods of unproductiveness can boost morale and long-term productivity. In fact, many companies that have experimented with office leagues have reported positive feedback. Of course, if a company goes this route, it is important to maintain expectations that employees are to remain professional and be courteous of coworkers – we all know that one person who gets a little too competitive, so you’ll want to keep the smack talk to a minimum.

The bottom line is that fantasy football in the workplace is happening whether you like it or not. Regardless of how you choose to tackle it, the most important thing you can do is make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Chris Morehead is a Washougal native and an attorney in the Portland office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, which is dedicated to representing the interests of employers. He can be reached at 503.205.8099 or cmorehead@laborlawyers.com.

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