4 Tips to Keep Employees Engaged During the Madness of March: The Least Productive Month of the Year

Mar 16, 2023 | Performance Improvement

The month of March should feel like a boost. Regions who wait out winter are emerging into sunshine. In warmer states, days begin to sneak into the 80s. The end of the school year is on the horizon. Even without any holidays, Easter candy is on the shelves. Moods should be buoyant, right?

Moods may be lifting, but more likely they’re bouncing up and down for a reason unrelated to work — unless you work for the NCAA.

According to an analysis from WalletHub, while the tournaments known as “March Madness” earn the NCAA more than a billion dollars, corporate losses are higher than $16B. Why? The same data found that the average worker spends 6 hours watching the games, and 37% of people are willing to call in sick or skip work to catch the action. Clearly, as a country, we’re distracted in March.

Time will tell, but with more employees working remotely, the effect of March Madness could be even stronger. Add to that the productivity lost from Daylight Saving time, the slowing, but continued trend of “quiet quitting” and overall low enthusiasm for work, and March could be a perfect storm for leaders.

How can a business match March Madness when it comes to employee engagement, productivity, and just basic attention?

Final Four Tips: How to Spark Team Spirit (for Work) During March Madness

  1. Team motivation

    One reason sports are attractive is the camaraderie. People go to games together, watch them together, and talk about them. Tap into that human need for connection and belonging by encouraging coworker appreciation as well as public appreciation on your company intranet or your direct message channels.

    When giving feedback, remember the 3 Ss: sincere, specific, and special. A customized thank you is like a perfectly fitting pair of basketball shoes — the foundation you need to jump higher and run faster.

  2. Up Your Game

    If you’re still using spreadsheets to track recognition, or sporadically providing logo items from a catalog, now is a good time to use a purpose-built reward system where you can see a direct line between goals, performance, and rewards. Think of it like training drills: not exciting, but fundamental to game-time success.

  3. Customize, Don’t Cash Out

    While humans respond well to recognition, cash doesn’t send the right message. That seems counterintuitive, but cash can too easily trickle away buying groceries or stopping at the coffee shop, whereas rewards delivered via a formal points programs don’t get lost in translation — their value stays consistent.

  4. Win All Year

    While sports naturally lend themselves to an ultimate play-off with one winner, the workplace is the opposite. Employees need ongoing “wins” through positive, frequent feedback, rather than waiting for the “finals” (aka the annual review).

    And even though the pandemic is over, and people are back to work, it’s not work like it was before. Many of the incentive and recognition learnings still hold true: authentic and frequent recognition, flexibility to life outside of work, incentives, and using technology as a tool, not a leash.

Emotions drive behavior, and emotions are like muscles. You can’t use them only once a year and expect the best performance. Plan now for how you can surprise and delight your team throughout the year (and how they can do the same for one another) for more wins, more often.

Nicole Neal

Nicole Neal

Nicole Neal is a 25-year human resources professional who has focused her career on helping organizations create intentional cultures. Working with a variety of companies spanning from fast-growing technology firms to large global organizations, Nicole has shared her passion for helping employees through change while focusing on the employee experience. She is currently the EVP of Employee Xperience at One10 where she leads a team of human resources professionals tasked with fulfilling One10’s mission of creating an employee centric workplace.