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Work losing to Nationals as playoff fever distracts employees

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Washington-area employers are bracing for a sharp drop in productivity Wednesday afternoon as Washington Nationals fans root for their team in the first baseball playoff game played in the city in 79 years.

Even with a starting time smack dab in the middle of the workday in the middle of the workweek, fans from around the region say they plan to keep tabs on their team. Some are preparing to miss work to go to the game, while others admit they will be distracted at the office.

Ryan Namata, who helps handle human relations for the Alexandria-based Society for Human Resource Management, the world's biggest trade group for personnel professionals, said managers are unlikely to grant excused absences to watch the game but typically will employ a variation of the "don't ask, don't tell" approach often used in offices during college basketball's March Madness.

"People don't get the day off, but I don't know how you stop people from checking their smartphones or iPads at their desk," Mr. Namata said. "I know that during March Madness, I can walk down the hall here and ask the score on the latest game, and someone will yell it out. We're not doing anything to facilitate workers watching a few innings in their cubicle, but we're not naive."

According to a 2010 study from the executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., March Madness costs employers about $1.8 billion in a lack of productivity from distracted workers. Some say a proportional loss could be felt in the Washington economy this week.

Marc Gudelsky got his boss at Capital Auto Auction to let him go to the game, but it wasn't easy for his wife, Meryl, a nurse, who had to call all her patients to reschedule.

"It's pretty easygoing here," he said. "They're cool about it. But it was a little more difficult for my wife. She had to scramble today to reschedule all her patients."

As soon as it looked as if the Nats would be playing in October, Mr. Gudelsky jumped at his chance to buy playoff tickets even though he will be sitting in the "nosebleed" section and bought the tickets before he knew when the game would be.

"It didn't really make any difference where the seats were; I just wanted to be in the ballpark," he said. "I got the tickets not knowing. I wasn't sure when they'd be playing, wasn't sure if they'd even make it."

While some companies will notice the negative effects on productivity, sports bars are expecting an uptick in business. James Williams, bar manager at Capitol Hill's venerable Tune Inn, said he expects the place to be packed Wednesday afternoon. The bar is a short distance from Nationals Park, so many fans will stop there as early as 10 a.m. for a few drinks before they head over to the game. He also hopes they'll hit up the bar on the way back after the game.

"It should be really busy tomorrow since they made the playoffs," Mr. Williams said on Tuesday. "And, if they win, oh my God, it's really going to get busy."

On H Street Northeast, Star and Shamrock Tavern & Deli also was preparing for a busy Wednesday afternoon. "We're ready for a crowd," said owner Jason Feldman, "so I hope they come. It'd be good for the city, good for the team and certainly good for business."

The workplace juggling won't be limited to Wednesday. Major League Baseball officials announced late Tuesday that Thursday's Game 4 will start at 4:07 p.m., which could spur a lot of half-day requests. But employers will get a break if a deciding Game 5 is needed, as the starting time would be at 8:37 p.m.

David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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