Workzone: Fantasy leagues powering into offices

Managers, too, are gearing up for the season

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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: dtodd@post-ga­ or 412-263-1652. Twit­ter: @deb­o­rahtodd.

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