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Source: Diane Swanson, 785-532-4352,
News release prepared by: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, 785-532-6415,

Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010


MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University business ethics expert has long observed that what businesses lose in productivity to March Madness betting pools they may gain in worker morale.

But in the current economic climate, workers have reason now more than ever to be concerned with how productive they are -- or at least how productive they look. At the same time, Diane Swanson, chair of the Business Ethics Education Initiative at K-State said many businesses have bigger fish to fry than cubicle workers wasting time following line scores.

"The wholesale bailout of big investment banks and the taxpayer money channeled to CEO salaries at those banks says to me that an exaggerated concern for rank-and-file workers betting in March may be misplaced," Swanson said. "If highway robbery is taking place at the top, we should look first at those elites who are getting taxpayer money and getting bailed out for bad, risky decisions that make life worse for millions of ordinary citizens."

A business ethics instructor and researcher, Swanson has evaluated executive pay levels and found that those executives who downplay ethics in their decision making, including the consideration of fair pay for employees,  also prefer salaries that are extraordinary multiples of what the lowest-paid employees earn. She also is spearheading a campaign to emphasize the importance of ethics in business education.

Although Swanson does not want to encourage breaking the law, when asked about the practice on its own merits, she said that she sees nothing inherently wrong with employees participating in these pools while at work -- as long as it's done in moderation. This is true especially in cases where technology blurs the lines between office work and personal time, such as when employees are checking e-mail messages even when off the clock. 

She said workers should ask their employers whether any rules exist against participating in pools where money changes hands. Moreover, employees who are uncomfortable with the practice or those not interested in the games should never feel pressured to participate.

Legal issues aside, if employers know about the pools and if they are run with fairness and without corruption, then they can help cement bonds among coworkers and strengthen morale, especially during difficult economic times, Swanson said.  Managers may want to consider that improved morale often can boost employee productivity and loyalty to the organization. Moreover, Swanson said some research is showing that companies with high employee satisfaction generate greater returns and are weathering the recession better than their counterparts.

"Such activities at work can create a bond among employees and increase their interest in being at work while fostering a climate of solidarity," Swanson said. "Instead of people sitting solemnly around in isolation,  these kinds of events can help to connect people and create bonds around a focal point of interest. This is desirable in a climate where employees by the thousands have lost jobs due to outsourcing and whopping misconduct at the top of certain organizations. It can also help improve morale in organizations where downsizing has meant fewer employees are doing more work."