March Madness is promising to be one giant distraction for business, according to global outplacement company Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which tracks worker productivity trends. But employers could also use it as a morale booster.

With more games and coverage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's three-week-long March Madness now popping up not only on TVs, but on computers as well as on smart phones and tablets at an office near you, the group says that it estimates online viewing during business hours to reach at least 8.4 million hours. If you multiply that by the average hourly earnings of $22.87 among private-sector workers, the financial impact is more than $192 million, CG&C says.

The company notes that it takes its figures from 2010 March Madness on Demand traffic stats from Its traffic report shows that a total of 8.3 million unique viewers watched more than 11.7 million total hours of live streaming video and audio.

So they're predicting that this year, viewers are going to consume at least 8.4 million hours during work hours. Viewer numbers keep going up, but not all the games are during business hours.

"At first glance, 8.4 million hours of lost productivity seems like it would deliver a crushing blow to the enconomy. However, it is important to remember that there are roughly 108.3 million people on private payrolls, each working an average of 34.2 hours a week, according to the latest U.S. Labor Department data. So the total hours worked by the American workforce in one week comes to about 3.7 billion hours, said CEO John A. Challenger in a release announcing the prediction.

That means March Madness takes away less than 1 percent of productivity, he added, but for some companies, that will have an impact. Employers would do well to set some policies on whether the work-time distraction is welcome or not.

He notes that, "Rather than try to squash employee interest in March Madness, companies could try to embrace it as a way to build morale and camaraderie. This could mean putting televisions in the break room, so employees have somewhere to watch the games other than over the Internet."

Tom Carpenter, an account associate at Grayling Connection Point, provided some other insights, straight from a survey by TNS Global that was commissioned by PC Tools.

They questioned 1,000 adults and learned that nearly 1 in 4 Americans will be online as well while they're actually watching the games on TV.

1 comment on this story

And they like to check their scores online. Ask about location, and you find work's the No. 1 choice for retrieving scores, followed by in the bathroom and while driving, the survey said.

The independent omnibus poll of 1,000 American adults also found that men watch up to three hours of sports games a day online and that the most common online activity while watching basketball on TV is chatting with friends and trash-talking by way of social networking or instant messaging.

By the way, some said they check scores during an argument with a significant other or when the boss is talking.