Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

How Big a Part of GDP Are Office Pools? Make a Bet?

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

How Big a Part of GDP Are Office Pools? Make a Bet?

Article excerpt

Don't try calling Jake Williams right now about his company's product line. Williams, a manager at Furnimex, a distributor of home textiles based in Dallas, is working furiously against a deadline to complete a special project.

On Monday morning, faxes began piling up on his desk, his voice mail light started blinking and messages began clogging his e-mail. As in years past, Williams is spending much of his workday confirming the orders pouring in and collecting cash from customers.

But not all of them are Furnimex customers. Williams organizes an office betting pool for the granddaddy event of them all: the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship playoffs, a.k.a. March Madness, with 64 of the nation's top men's teams battling it out throughout the next two and a half weeks.

And here is the twist: Williams says his role as numbers man is good for business, good for workplace morale and even good for his family life since he enlists the help of his wife and son in the tabulations.

"It gets everyone excited and talking around the water cooler, regardless of their function and position in the company," Williams said. It is also a lifeline to customers old and new, he said. When his previous employer moved him from New York to Dallas 12 years ago, he said, "Everyone identified me as the sports fan, and, as many colleagues remained in New York, they wanted to know whether the tradition would be maintained."

They did not have to worry. Even though he took a job with Furnimex six years ago, the office pool he organizes around March Madness gives him a chance to renew old contacts. "It's an annual high moment that so many busy partners and friends look forward to, year in and year out," he said.

A lot of business consultants agree with him. Many corporate bosses have long tolerated office pools on sporting events and award shows as harmless diversions. But some say the pools are much more than that because they increase camaraderie and encourage interaction in the workplace.

"The betting pool, as a shared experience, gives co-workers an excuse to see each other face to face in a world where technology has put efficiency, but distance, in our work relationships," said Bob Nelson, a consultant and author of 1001 Ways To Take Initiative at Work (Workman, 1999).

Matt Weinstein, founder of Playfair, a management consulting firm in Berkeley, Calif., and author of Work Like Your Dog (Villiard, 1999), says betting pools can make the workplace more fun -- an important consideration for retaining employees in the current job market. They can also add a light touch to otherwise humdrum activities. "Pools run the gamut from what time the UPS deliveryman will arrive to how many pie charts a vice president will use during his presentation," he said. …

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