Watching the ballgame? Boss may be watching you

Fri Mar 16, 2012 10:34am EDT
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By Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hoops fans, look over your shoulder before you click on one of the websites streaming Friday's basketball games -- the people in the IT department know exactly what you're up to.

For many, March Madness - the annual U.S. college basketball championship tournament - spells great match-ups, down-to-the-buzzer suspense and camaraderie among co-workers.

It can also mean a stressed-out tech staff and a boss counting up lost productivity.

College basketball fans catching games at work are taxing office computer networks, according to a survey by tech staffing company Modis, a unit of Adecco SA.

The tournament puts an extra burden on 60 percent of networks as employees stream games, according to the survey of 500 information technology (IT) professionals. The effect is comparable to "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving Day when online holiday shopping booms.

Most companies block or otherwise curtail access to the ballgames to protect IT networks, and some keep an eye on workers. Among those surveyed, 42 percent say they monitor their employees.

Workers in the U.S. South can breathe easier than those elsewhere. Most Southern employers don't bother blocking games, the survey found, and are much more tolerant than those in the Northeast, where nearly all IT professionals think sports should be banned during the workday.

Online streaming video of March Madness games could attract more than 2.5 million unique visitors on Thursday and Friday, each spending an average of 90 minutes watching games, according to outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Since private-sector workers earn an average of $23 an hour, U.S. employers are paying distracted workers $175 million over the first two days of the month-long tournament, Challenger estimates.

(Reporting By Nick Zieminski in New York; editing by John Wallace)