A Different Kind of ‘March Madness’ : Combating Workplace Gambling


NEW YORK—It seems like yesterday that the buzz was about the NFL Championship and which team was favored by employees throughout your office and practice. Within the next several weeks, “March Madness”—the college basketball playoffs—will be underway. This time, the office buzz will be about teams favored to make it to the Sweet 16, followed by the Elite Eight, all the way to the Final Four and then the ultimate prize, the college basketball championship. And along with the office buzz will be the prospect of workplace gambling.

Workplace gambling and office betting pools can be innocuous and seemingly innocent, but taken to a far more serious level, some employees may exhibit gambling problems and fail to do their work. While you may not be overly concerned about employees predicting winners for fun or personal bragging rights, you should concern yourself with any betting for monetary benefit and the prospect of losers being resentful, angry and possibly physically hostile at work. And you should take a moment to acquaint yourself with any state laws governing betting pools and other forms of gambling in the workplace.

How can you take a more involved and knowledgeable view on workplace gambling? Here are our four tips that you can easily achieve in the next few weeks, and into the future, as any athletic or closely watched events may result in workplace gambling.

1. Become informed on when and how your employees gamble. Betting on major sporting events comprises the majority of office gambling. It occurs throughout the year in many forms. According to one study by CareerBuilder.com, employees bet on such seemingly inane topics as who can grow the best mustache, how many binder clips could one employee attach to his body, and how many words a manager would say in a meeting. While seemingly innocent, all of these types of events, when employees place wagers on the event, are technically gambling.

2. Always be consistent in applying policies. As a matter of good business policy, you should prohibit all forms of gambling in your business, as you would any other illegal activity. That said, some employers allow some forms of gambling in the workplace, such as fantasy football leagues. In a survey of HR professionals, the survey found:

a. Approximately 20 percent of surveyed companies block access to sports websites from company computers; and
b. Some 46 percent did not care if employees played fantasy football as long as it did not affect productivity.

Whatever you choose to do in your business, employers should apply policy in a fair, uniform and non-discriminatory fashion. Remember: Gambling is gambling.

3. Always be vigilant and know the warning signs of a possible problem gambler. As any reasonable person would surmise, problem gambling can and most always will lead to decreased productivity, poor work quality, customer dissatisfaction, and could lead to a variety of other problems and issues, including:

a. Decreased work performance;
b. Trouble concentrating;
c. Increased and unexplained absences from work;
d. Arguments, a short temper, mood swings and other behavioral problems that may result from winning and losing bets;
e. Complaints of increasing debt; and
f. Theft, both personal and of company property or funds.

4. Revisit and/or revise policy, or establish a clear policy prohibiting workplace gambling. First and foremost, always consult with counsel regarding your state laws and in establishing a no gambling policy. When you have finalized the policy, ensure it is distributed on paper, on your bulletin boards, and on company electronic intranet. It should also be included in your company handbook, and you should require annual acknowledgement of this and other company policies by your employees. If appropriate, also ensure that your team leaders and managers are fully trained and receive the support they need to effectively enforce the policy.

It has been and continues to be our advice to client companies to think beyond what may be an innocent behavior on the part of employees and understand the possible serious consequences that may result. And the best way to ensure you and your company are informed and fully engaged in your business is to know of those behaviors, as minor as they may be, and ensure they do not affect your business, your customers and your employees.

Hedley Lawson, Contributing Editor
Managing Partner
Aligned Growth Partners, LLC
(707) 217-0979