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Turn the Distraction of Fantasy Sports Into an Engagement Opportunity Research has shown that employees are spending time managing their teams instead of working, which cost companies big.

By John Brubaker Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

At offices around the nation, a kind of brain drain -- essentially a big distraction and engagement problem -- will be affecting entrepreneurs: their disengaged employees playing fantasy sports on company time.

Recent Gallup research indicates disengaged employees cost U.S. companies an estimated $350 billion annually. According to a study by Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., an outplacement consultancy, an estimated $13.4 billion of that can be attributed to fantasy-football season alone.

Related: 9 Ways to Manage Underperforming Employees

This isn't about massive numbers of people calling in sick because they're hung over from a weekend of tailgating and watching football. Rather it's due to the employees who show up for work in body but not in spirit.

Challenger estimates that 18.3 million working Americans are participating in fantasy sports and doing so on company time. Every hour employees spend on their fantasy teams costs employers $447.4 million. If players (employees) spend just two hours a week managing their teams while on company time, this amounts to upwards of $895 million a week. If you think that number is scary, sit down before you read any further. Multiply those two hours per person out over a 15-week fantasy football schedule and the cost escalates to $13.4 billion.

"Presenteeism" is in many ways far more damaging than absenteeism when you consider the office pools, fantasy leagues and time spent tracking stats online -- never mind factoring in the logjam of work created by co-workers who are legitimately absent.

However, smart employers can turn this negative into a positive by leveraging fantasy football so that it has a positive impact on morale. I know from experience when I managed an ESPN Radio affiliate in North Carolina. To raise audience engagement (which is what every entrepreneur wants) I organized fantasy football leagues for our listeners and advertisers.

We found that employees from an array of companies across the area would enter and some small businesses had almost all their employees participating. A couple of fascinating things happened: our fantasy league elevated our listener and advertiser engagement, created a sense of community and provided an opportunity for prospecting and networking.

Here's how you can take a page from my old playbook:

1. Find a popular local sports bar or restaurant to sponsor a beginning of season draft party where participants can select their teams.

Related: The Risks of Betting on Sports in Your Office

2. Bring everyone back for an end of season trophy party and celebrate the winner with a plaque or replica of the Super Bowl trophy.

3. Use the league to invite your clients and ideal prospects. They don't have to be football fans and certainly don't have to be men. They do need to be influencers and people you value spending time with. Remember: You're not just drafting fantasy-football teams.

Do this correctly and you are networking, building your book of business and potentially recruiting new hires. Don't forget to ask your current clients to bring a friend whom you would want to work with. (This is how I found my best sales person. She was a huge football fan and her husband was a fantasy addict.)

4. Serve as "the commish" of the league. I sent out weekly updates and organized parties for members to watch the games together on a dozen big screen TVs at our sponsor's restaurant. This gave me a four-month window to build new relationships in a non-sales way. I selected members I wanted to get to know better and challenged them. "If your player X outperforms my guy this week I will buy you lunch." It was selling without selling and more new business resulted from those weekly lunches than any other "traditional sales strategy" we ever employed.

At season's end I had one CEO call and ask me what needed to happen to make sure we ran this league every year. I told him I had no intentions of discontinuing it but wanted to know why he was so passionate about it considering he finished dead last. He explained that I did something he previously couldn't.

Our fantasy league opened up lines of communication in his company. It created discussion across departments and among people who otherwise wouldn't speak to each other. When it came time to share work-related ideas between these departments, people were more receptive.

Businesses can build fantasy football activities into the organization by creating an event around the games. With budgets as tight as they are, many companies have had to forgo giving raises, but a fantasy league provides a unique opportunity to reward your employees in a memorable way that extends beyond a raise in salary.

Research indicates money is only the third-ranked workplace motivator, while appreciation is number one. Seize this golden opportunity to show your team that you appreciate them while letting them support their team. You can't outsource morale, and there is a strong correlation between morale and productivity. Stop fantasizing that you can control or ban their fantasy habit and instead embrace the reality by sponsoring a companywide league.

Related: 3 Steps to Creating an Inspiring Workplace

Here's how you can further use a fantasy league to boost morale:

1. Use your fantasy league as a teambuilding opportunity within your organization. is a free service that ranks entire fantasy leagues that use the most popular league platforms such as ESPN, CBS, Yahoo!, Fantrax and My Fantasy League. It provides leagues with the opportunity to compete against other leagues with the winner claiming National League Champions at season's end.

2. If you live in or near an NFL market, take the opportunity to have your employees entertain clients at the games. Back in my radio days, I had an opportunity to bring key accounts to the Carolina Panthers games in Charlotte. The games provided me with a ton of quality time with important clients both at the games and during the commute to and from. This enabled them to discover some synergies between their organizations, which wouldn't have happened otherwise.

3. Institute a "jersey week" that encourages all employees to dress down and wear their favorite player's jersey. Eye black and cleats are optional.

4. Hold a tailgate party during lunch hour, perhaps even outside if the weather is good.

Even if there is a minor dip in productivity during football season, that dip is overshadowed by the long-term effects of increased job satisfaction. Research indicates that job satisfaction has a positive impact on absenteeism and turnover while also reducing costs and increasing revenue.

Consider what you can do to boost morale and enhance performance year-round. Establish a committee of staff members charged with brainstorming creative events and ideas to expand employee engagement. The simple fact that you are soliciting their input and empowering them is a giant leap in the right direction.

Related: The Reality of Fantasy Sports

John Brubaker

Executive Coach, Speaker & Award-Winning Author

John Brubaker is a nationally renowned performance consultant, speaker and award-winning author. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, Coach Bru helps organizations and individuals turn their potential into performance.

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