When it comes to work distractions, there is probably none greater than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament – better known as “March Madness.” And make no mistake about it – March Madness is a work thing. The announcement of the tournament seeds unleashes a torrent of office pools nationwide.

“When the games start, the viewing starts, and when the viewing starts, the work that needs to be done stops,” says Jack Cullen, president of a Florida firm that surveyed 500 information technology professionals about the impact of the tournament on work and computers.

An online survey by MSN revealed that 86% of respondents said they’ll find a way to follow the tournament between or during work assignmetns. But is this a bad thing? Opinions vary. Some employers say they have no issue with March Madness, stamping office pools and chats about last second three-pointers as ways to cultivate camaraderie. As long as it doesn’t hinder productivity, many employers don’t have a problem with it – although a lot of them monitor Internet useage.

The line, or at least one of them, involves streaming games on desktop computers. “Our company’s computers are not to be used for anything but company-related purposes,” states John Nelson, co-CEO of a health insurance brokerage. “We stick to those guidelines throughout the year, whether it’s March Madness or not.”

The reality, however, is that employees figure out ways to follow the action – especially in a day and age with personal smartphones and the like.

Lawyer Sandy Robertson of Ventura, CA relies on her work computer for score updates. Present her with the argument that March Madness decreases work productivity, and she cries foul. “I think it creates camaraderie among people you might not have much in common with,” Robertson says. “It  just establishes a good feeling around the office, and I think that kind of creates productivity.”

What do YOU think?

Additional source: Scripps Howard News Service.