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Street Talk: Employers may be feeling March sadness

Heavy metal.

March 15, 2019
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A new report says the NCAA March Madness tournament could cost employers $13.3 billion this year in lost productivity.

Chicago-based global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates each hour spent researching teams, filling out brackets and secretly streaming the games at work will cost employers $2.1 billion, for a grand total of $13.3 billion over the course of the tournament.

However, the firm said wise employers will use the tournament as an opportunity to build morale among their staff, despite the hit they will take in productivity.

“Employers should absolutely use the games to create an atmosphere of camaraderie at the office,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “That said, the growing number of employed persons and the climbing hourly wage will mean employers will take a larger hit to the bottom line with this year’s tournament.”

March Madness games garnered 97 million viewers globally in 2018, according to CBS.

Adding to this year’s fervor is the high seeds for both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. MSU coach Tom Izzo regularly has his team playing in the second weekend of the tournament and beyond, while U-M’s John Beilein and crew cruised all the way to last year’s final game before succumbing to Villanova.

According to staffing firm OfficeTeam, workers spent 25.5 minutes of their workday on March Madness-related activities. That’s 6.375 hours spent during the 15 weekdays beginning with Selection Sunday on March 17 and ending with the National Championship on April 8.

A 2018 survey conducted by TSheets by Quickbooks found 48 percent of employees work on their brackets at work. With 156.9 million employed Americans, that is 75.3 million workers engaged in March Madness activities while on the clock.

Besides co-worker bonding, Challenger said employers should encourage the fun for another reason.

“Any attempt to keep workers from the games would most likely result in real damage to employee morale, loyalty and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity,” he said.

“Companywide office pools that are free to enter and offer lunches or gift cards to the winners are a great way to use the games to create a fun atmosphere at work. Employers can also set up a television or computer monitor where workers can gather to watch the games.”

He added employers should consider giving their workers extended lunches and extra breaks so they can watch games or let them work from home and “have the games on in the background” as they work.

The TSheets survey found 37 percent of workers have the games running in the background at all times anyway, while 20 percent watch with co-workers. Another 30 percent watch while working from home.

“In a tight labor market, companies can use the tournament for recruiting, promoting how the office celebrates March Madness. This could be especially effective among millennial and Gen Z workers,” Challenger said.

Lead leaders

Parents living in Grand Rapids’ 49507 ZIP code are determined to get the word out about the threat of lead paint poisoning in the city’s older homes.

The Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan and parents of children living in that area boarded a donated charter bus last week Thursday and departed for Lansing, prepared for a full day of meetings with elected officials for the annual “Lead Education Day.”

“Our goal is simple: let legislators know how critical the issue of lead poisoning is, especially in Grand Rapids,” said Paul Haan, executive director of Healthy Homes. “We do this by letting parents’ voices be heard — we take a back seat and let them share their stories of how their own children have been affected and the challenges they face in trying to do something to stop this. Kids are hurting in our community and those that represent the families of these children need to know — and do something — about it.”

According to the Healthy Homes Coalition, lead dust, lead-based paint and soil remain primary routes of exposure for children to dangerous levels of lead in West Michigan, Flint and statewide.

Locally, the problem is most serious in underserved communities like in the 49507 ZIP code, which includes mostly southwest Grand Rapids with a west boundary of U.S. 131 and a southern boundary of 28th Street. Federal statistics put the racial/ethnic makeup at nearly 40 percent African-American, approximately 29 percent Hispanic and just more than 26 percent Caucasian.

Since 1978, federal and state regulations have banned the sale of lead-based paint. However, lead still is found in the majority of older homes and in the soil around them.

This is the second year Grand Rapids has had a large group of parents taking a chartered bus, courtesy of GRPS and Dean Transportation, to Lansing.

“It speaks to the magnitude of the problem and also to the willingness of these parents to do whatever they can to stop it,” Haan said.

Lead Education Day is coordinated by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes, which represents and works with organizations throughout Michigan on common strategies to fight lead poisoning in the state’s communities.

Strong bond

Grand Rapids Community College leaders met Metallica guitarist James Hetfield last week before the band’s concert at the Van Andel Arena.

An odd pairing? Not really.

GRCC President Bill Pink and Julie Parks, GRCC’s executive director of workforce training, presented gifts of gratitude for the $100,000 grant the band awarded the school to provide more opportunities for nontraditional students to gain welding skills.

Among the gifts was a decorative steel guitar with the foundation’s logo and “GRCC WELDING” cut into the front, crafted by welding professors John Doneth, Nick Pinckney and Nathan Haney.

Each of the band members also received personalized mugs from GRCC’s student-run Fountain Hill Brewery, allowing them a free pour whenever they visit.

“He expressed a desire to see the funding from the band going toward programs that help people get skills they need to get good jobs,” Pink said. “He was very focused on the idea of helping people.”

As the Business Journal reported in December, GRCC is one of 10 colleges selected nationwide for the Metallica Scholars grant. The band’s All Within My Hands Foundation partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges on the project, aimed at providing workforce training for community college students and reinvesting in cities where the band has toured.

GRCC is using the funding for an intensive welding program, targeted toward nontraditional students, that takes less time to complete than traditional courses.

The program includes smaller class sizes with flexible scheduling options and career preparation assistance.

GRCC is partnering with local employers so students can participate in site visits, employee panels and mentoring to help them determine if welding is a good fit for their career goals.

The Metallica foundation previously supported efforts to fight hunger and provide emergency community aid, now expanding the focus to include career and technical education support.

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