Say No to Brackets: Office Pools Leave Workers Depressed

By Andrew Moseman | May 30, 2008 4:54 pm

The agony of defeat—it’s bad even if you’re just watchingLast week we let you know that placing some potted plants around the office could pave the way to happier and more productive workers. While most people would welcome a little more life in their cubicle, Arizona State University researchers Naomi Mandel and Stephen M. Nowlis have a prescription for workplace wellbeing that might prove less popular: No more office pools.

Pools are a mainstay of offices everywhere, whether they’re based around choosing the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament or the TV show Survivor. But the researchers say it’s not just good clean fun—more often than not, the competition leads to hurt feelings. Even though many people fill out March Madness brackets without ever having seen most of the teams play, Mandel and Nowlis say pool participants make an emotional investment in their picks. Nobody wants to look stupid, and more than that, nobody wants their coworkers to mock their poor predictions.

But winners are just as unhappy, according to the researchers, simply because the victors spent just as much time worrying that they would lose. Researchers call it “anticipated regret,” and it’s taxing. Mandel and Nowlis say that their subjects expected participation in the pool to make their watching experience more exciting. Instead, living and dying with an American Idol contestant or a basketball team just heaps more stress onto the participants’ already stressed-out lives.

Now the question is: What hurts employee morale more—the fear of losing in your office pool, or losing your office pool altogether?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
  • Kevin McHugh

    I run an office pool website ( and must say I disagree with some of these conclusions. We had several thousand participants in various private pools for the most recent American Idol show. Over the course of the season, a percentage of participants did drop out (failed to return to place weekly picks), but well over 3/5ths continued to return week after week. While, we cannot say whether the enjoyment factor of watching the show diminished for these people, we can say with certainty many offices enjoyed the game and the competition. Several private offices held finale parties where all pool participants were invited to watch the final show and award the winner of their pool. The premise of this study is that people who would watch a show enjoy it more if they do not predict the outcome. I believe the reality is that they make those predictions privately, they just may not join together to put $5 on the outcome. However, I would also suggest that many more people participate and watch a show that they might otherwise not watch if they are participating in an office pool. Also, whether your office workers enjoy a show or not is irrelevant to whether they are productive at work (as this article seems to suggest). Watch the people communicate, go out to lunch, compare picks and results during March Madness pools–your workers are engaged and communicating with one another. How can this be bad–and do you really care if they enjoy the show less?

  • Hillary

    This is just ridiculous and couldn’t be more wrong. How about the thrill of playing and the fun chatter and discussion that comes from these games?!?!? Here’s a whole web site of people proving this wrong.

  • topchef

    Great post – Just subscriped to your RSS feed.. Thanks


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