In the spring, it's March Madness; in the summer, it's baseball; and in the fall, it's fantasy football that seems to cause aches and pains for managers. A study several months back suggested that fantasy football leagues—where armchair quarterbacks compete with virtual teams, whose performance tracks that of real-life players—cost employers $500 million a week in lost productivity, or $8.5 billion a year.
However, the folks who produced this study also say managers shouldn't send their fantasy footballers to the showers. "Work has invaded personal life," says workforce expert John Challenger, "so there's no reason personal life shouldn't invade company life, as long as it doesn't get out of hand." Compared with the productivity losses that come with unhappy or burned-out workers—or with rapid employee turnover—the cost of accommodating fantasy sports can be a bargain.
One potential bonus of fantasy football—or of other sports spinoffs like office pools—is as a team builder. Challenger notes such pastimes are a way to "create community and increase communications—have employees compete in a fun and equal way." That is, tap into the benefits of friendly competition without making the stakes too high by linking the contest to actual performance.The downside is that such endeavors do get "out of hand," with workers checking their team's stats too often or at the wrong time. Channeling the games into an "official" workplace fantasy league can help promote good behavior in this regard. However, it's important that managers be aware if team members who don't play or care about the game are feeling neglected, excluded or unfairly treated.