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Slacking off work by playing fantasy football? Meh, it’s not as bad as you think.

Like a hit TV show or a big sporting event, research finds that fantasy football erodes productivity but boosts morale in the workplace. Despite the time people waste being distracted by their fantasy football leagues, experts say the camaraderie boost might not be such a bad trade-off for companies scrambling to find and keep workers in a historically tight labor market.

In a new study, executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that employers stand to lose a total of $9 billion, thanks to some 7.5 million workers playing fantasy football on the job. While this isn’t exactly a boon for productivity, company vice president Andrew Challenger said there’s a hidden benefit in it for employers.

“It might cost employers a little bit in lost productivity, but we think it makes for up it in spades in terms of building up the culture in an organization,” Challenger said. “This is one of those distractions where you get a lot of culture building benefits from it. It helps transform jobs that have become more and more transactional into communities.”

The World Health Organization recognizes on-the-job burnout as “an occupational phenomenon” caused by “chronic workplace stress.”

The value of that engagement shouldn’t be underestimated, because there are indications that a significant number of workers have mentally checked out from their jobs. In May, the World Health Organization recognized on-the-job burnout as “an occupational phenomenon” caused by “chronic workplace stress.” The agency said burnout is characterized by exhaustion, feelings of negativity or cynicism and a drop in working effectively. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, only half of workers feel like they’re on a career track at their current jobs, and roughly one in three plan to change jobs this year.

Private-sector employment data from payroll processor ADP and Moody’s Analytics indicates that smaller employers, in particular, are struggling to keep workers. From May to June, businesses with fewer than 20 employees shed 37,000 jobs. According to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a record one in four small company owners say a lack of good workers is their biggest business challenge. “Finding qualified workers has been a continuing problem for small businesses, and it is affecting productivity,” NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said in a statement.

“It’s the tightest labor market we’ve seen in about 50 years and companies are fighting to retain and attract employees,” Challenger said.

Although one way to hang onto employees is to pay them more, that’s not an option for many businesses. Companies today already face rising costs and uncertainty pertaining to trade tensions, which have wreaked havoc in the stock market, driven down business investment and curbed capital spending. They can’t afford listless employees with one foot out the door.

For these reasons, business owners and executives should embrace the silver lining to the distraction of fantasy football, Challenger said. He added that companies can foster interaction by setting up leagues in the office and encouraging workers to play with their colleagues.

“A much less expensive way to retain workers is to build a culture and an organization that people want to belong to,” he said. “What’s so valuable is it gets people talking about something other than the daily business agenda and gets people from different departments in the organization speaking with each other about something that’s purely fun.”


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