March Madness: Is It Really Fouling Up Productivity?

9819223Thankfully, our beloved Hoosier state is rejoicing as we’ve placed five colleges into the Big Dance!

But with much attention this week now devoted toward brackets and sneaking in an online stream of a game, are Indiana employers paying the price?

Fortune cites stats from Challenger, Gray & Christmas indicating that a staggering 60 million Americans will be solely focused on tourney games later this week. And it could be costing employers up to $1.9 billion in wages.

That does sound like a big ol’ negative. But the executives quoted in the article report they’re not too concerned about it. So is it possible we should all just relax on the “it hurts productivity” argument and simply enjoy the experience?

Sports broadcaster and Talk Sporty to Me founder Jen Mueller says claims of lost productivity are overblown because the brackets increase camaraderie and conversation within the office. She contends that actually boosts your bottom line in the long run. (Frankly, this Indiana University alum likes the way she thinks.) See her reasoning below:

Best Place to Work in … America

Our Best Places to Work in Indiana program has become incredibly popular through the years, and we’re honored so many companies apply and take part in the annual celebration and rankings announcement at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. But in case you’re wondering where the best place to work in America is located, Fortune magazine contends it resides in Cary, N.C.

The Great Place to Work Institute announced Thursday in Fortune magazine that a company known for its openness, SAS, is the No. 1 employer in the United States for the second year in a row.

“What we’ve learned is that, in the best companies—and we study them pretty extensively—their leaders are communicating directly, openly and honestly with their employees, particularly when they’re delivering tough messages,” said Great Place to Work Institute Vice President Erin Liberman Moran in an interview with Ragan Communications CEO Mark Ragan last October.

Karen Lee, senior manager of internal communications at SAS, says the No. 1 spot reaffirmed the role of communications in creating a stellar work environment:

"In an era of social media where communication is critical, transparency within internal communications at SAS reflects the trust our employees have in our leadership and in one another," says Lee, who was celebrating the selection with team members before dawn on Thursday.

SAS, a privately owned business analytics software firm based in Cary, N.C., has about 5,900 employees in the United States, 4,600 of whom work at the 550-acre corporate campus. In 2009, the company made $2.31 billion in revenue, according to the company’s website.

Among its many claims to fame, SAS boasts a 4 percent turnover rate; the industry average is around 22 percent.

How to Keep Your Top Employees

So you have some employees you’re fond of. That’s great. But, you’re concerned they may head for greener pastures once the economy improves and their options expand. Not so good. This CNN/Fortune article offers some thoughts on how to make sure your affinity for your top staffers is not unrequited:

The CEB (Corporate Executive Board) survey, which asked nearly 20,000 high-potential employees what drove them, found that feeling connected to corporate strategy was tops on their list. But many managers turned inward when the economy sank, giving fewer employees the chance to influence the company’s direction.

Another way to get your stars involved is to turn them into headhunters. Many companies already do so through employee-referral programs, but they don’t realize that there is an upside beyond bringing in new talent. Dave Ulrich, human resources consultant and University of Michigan professor, says such programs can actually boost loyalty for those doing the recruiting. "It sounds tautological," he says, "but when people behave as if they’re committed, they become more committed."

Even if money isn’t the best motivator, it still talks. To make a smaller bonus pool go further, fine-tune your timing. Rewards handed out at tough times can have a major impact. It’s also smart to rethink your selection process. More companies are paying bonuses to those with hard-to-replace skills instead of just top performers, says Hay Group comp expert Tom McMullen.

Stop the Insurance Industry Attacks

While many agree that health care reform is necessary, the level of disagreement on the current proposals in Washington is extremely high. Let’s hope that reasonable debate and compromise will lead to a sensible solution.

No matter how that plays out, one aspect that needs to stop is the all-out attack on the insurance industry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has made insurance companies the primary culprit. "It’s almost immoral what they are doing," Pelosi told reporters, adding, "Of course they’ve been immoral all along in how they have treated the people that they insure. They are the villians. They have been part of the problem in a major way."

President Obama, in discussing the public option for health insurance, said, "We want to keep the insurance industry honest" and that can be done by having a public option that will compete with private insurers.

I understand that many folks don’t like the fact that insurance companies make a profit. Profit in this country, for some unknown reason, has become an evil pursuit. In a recent Fortune magazine ranking of industries, health insurers ranked 35th with a 2.2% profit margin. (The larger numbers cited for earlier in the decade were primarily a result of significant consolidation in the industry).

Let’s face it: Either the employee-based system of using private insurance to provide for our health care needs is a good thing or it’s not. If it’s not, then go to the public plan and be honest with the American people. If it is good, let’s promote an environment that allows insurers the ability to compete and make a profit while holding them accountable to improve administrative efficiencies.

Without the ability to underwrite business, an insurance company can’t make a profit. That ability is what has afforded us the best policy benefits and coverages in the world. It also has resulted in private initiatives between insurers and employers to address some of the system’s runaway costs. Let’s work together to continue to do a better job in that area instead of simply casting blame on insurers.