March Madness Lessons for Employee Engagement

Did you know that 79% of employees agreed participating in office pools improves their engagement at work? It’s research like this that explains why Warren Buffett raised the stakes on Berkshire Hathaway’s annual March Madness bracket contest. This year, any employee who can correctly predict the Sweet 16 teams will receive a million dollars each year… for the rest of their life.

Of course, most companies can’t place an offer like that on the table. Even if you aren’t quite as interested in March’s college basketball, there are a few hard-hitting employee engagement and CSR lessons to be learned from all the madness.

79% of employees agreed participating in office pools improves their engagement at work. #MarchMadnessTweet This!

Lesson #1: It’s OK to Buy into Hype

Did you know that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that gripped the world in 2014 actually yielded positive results? Everyone from celebrities to children poured buckets of frigid water over their heads in an attempt to raise awareness and funding for a debilitating illness called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. The attention brought $220 million to the ALS Association, which helped researchers isolate the specific protein linked to the illness. That’s right. Researchers are one step closer to treatment thanks to a trend.

March Madness might be considered an annual trend since it gathers less faithful sports fans and all-in fanatics alike. This might be controversial, but there’s nothing wrong with capitalizing on a trend if it will benefit your employees. Of course, the trends that interest employees aren’t always on such a large scale or for a specific cause.

Best Play for Employers: Don’t be afraid to let the outside world into your corporate philanthropy and employee engagement practices. Maybe basketball isn’t your team’s thing, but there’s an overwhelming amount of interest in the Oscars. Or maybe it’s not about an event, but more about the unusual amount of karaoke champions that lie within your office. Looking at the interests of your employees will raise awareness of and participation in your corporate philanthropy efforts, whether you karaoke for charity or simply arrange a walk-a-thon.

Lesson #2: Underdogs are Inspiring, Especially Locals

One of the most magical and enjoyable parts of the contest is when a virtually unknown or often overlooked team finds their way to the bracket. People tune into their game simply to see the passion and hardwork that brought them this far. They cheer them on in hopes of seeing their historical victory. It’s innate, people love to see the little guy succeed.

It’s not uncommon for employers to choose well-known or national-level philanthropic efforts. In fact, in many ways, there is a lot to gain from supporting causes that have a lot of notoriety simply because more people know to turn to them in times of trouble, meaning your dollars and time might be farther reaching. However, there’s something to be said for the small, local non-profit who happens to work exclusively in your own community.

Best Play for Employers: Be receptive to local organizations and fundraising opportunities. Your employees might have more chances to support these establishments through donations, pro bono projects or volunteering efforts. Even more, the company can see how those efforts affect the community on a firsthand level.

Lesson #3: Nothing is Set in Stone

Last year, a team might have been number one in the nation. They might have most of their starters returning, in good health and with amazing skill and strength growth. All the analysts and experts might say the team will undoubtedly reign supreme and yet, they find themselves the victim of an underdog narrative. The championship goes to someone else.

When it comes to employee engagement, expect the unexpected. Many organizations have volunteering or fundraising traditions that happen on an annual basis. While this can be great for awareness and does sometimes excite the team into participation, there’s a chance that won’t always be the case. Just like March Madness, what worked last year may not work this year.

Best Play for Employers: Always be considering your company’s culture. It’s in a constant metamorphosis and as alive as the employees you manage. Watch trends in participation, consider the lifestyles of your people and keep a pulse on their feedback with surveys or meetings with team representatives or managers. Above all, add some variety to your corporate philanthropy program. It will increase participation and appeal to a wider range of employees.

March Madness is more than a basketball tournament. It’s about underdog’s achieving the impossible, Cinderella stories reaching happy endings and teams overcoming defeat with heads held high. Improving employee engagement might be as simple as holding a company-wide bracket challenge, but don’t forget to dig a little deeper when it comes to how to keep that excitement all year long.

Need a more strategic approach to corporate social responsibility? Check out our guide, Strategic Corporate Philanthropy: A Guide to Success and start building the plan your team will love.

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