After a seven-month hiatus from the sofa sideline, amateur franchisees are dusting off keyboards and studying Sportscenter in preparation for another season of fantasy football. With talk of drafts, lineups and Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson’s hamstring abuzz throughout the nation’s offices, managers, too, are gearing up for the season — but not for the reasons one might think.
What was once considered a distraction better suited for weekend discussions at the bar is fast becoming a means of forging connections between managers and employees, according to Terri Dougherty, associate editor of Neenah, Wisc.,-based workplace consulting firm J. J. Keller & Associates.
In a recent article published by the firm, Ms. Dougherty concludes the game’s presence in the workplace can be good and bad depending on how managers balance employees’ comradery vs. their productivity.
“Everything in moderation,” she said. “Fantasy football can definitely be a good thing in the workplace. Work isn’t always a lot of fun, so at least this is giving you a few minutes of levity.”
Growth of fantasy football — a game where individuals “draft” a team of National Football League players and translate the points and yards they earn during live action into points for each fantasy team — has been anything but moderate. The Chicago-based Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated last year that 24.3 million people participated, a figure not expected to diminish anytime soon.
The downside of the largely computer-based trend is that time spent managing a fantasy football team can take a hit on workplace productivity. A study by Chicago employment placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated that workers checking player statistics, organizing trades and watching videos in preparation for fantasy football Sunday cost businesses $430.9 million per week in lost productivity.
But another Challenger study found managers tend to nip the activity in the bud once it causes a problem. A poll of human resources professionals showed 70 percent rated the distraction as a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.
In any case, Ms. Dougherty said managers on top of their professional games will put a stop to any activity that becomes a hindrance to productivity.
“It’s always a good idea for employers to be aware of what potential distractions might be for workers,” she said. “Maybe 10 years ago, people were all talking about American Idol.”
And managers could benefit from joining in on the discussions about the game-breaking plays, said Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president of marketing for Hauppauge, N.Y.-based consulting firm Dale Carnegie Training.
“Our research with what drives employee engagement focuses on the relationship people have with their manager. It shows that when people are more engaged, one reason attributed to it is because their manager cares,” she said.
“[Managers] can turn the obstacles that come with fantasy football into a positive by finding out if [their] team is playing and finding out how they are doing.”
Even if managers aren’t active in discussions, Ms. Palazzolo said they should allow a few moments per day to discuss personal matters such as fantasy football, especially since workers are increasingly asked to take office business home.
“I think a caring manager, an up-to-date and modern manager, knows if you are emailing an employee past working hours and talking to them about work on weekends, it is completely appropriate to spend five minutes talking about fantasy football during work. It’s a tradeoff of the blurred line between personal and professional life,” she said.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652. Twitter: @deborahtodd.