With March Madness coming up, you might have been invited to join an office pool — maybe a toonie buy-in, or something a little bigger, pricier, and more competitive. This is nothing new: from co-workers betting on big games to staff members checking out poker websites on their lunch break, gambling can be a surprisingly pervasive part of the workplace.
In fact, one workplace survey cited by the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found nearly 60 per cent of respondents said employees at their organizations have been involved in Super Bowl pools, with 39 per cent saying people at their office pooled money to buy lottery tickets.
But is allowing (and participating) in this kind of activity at the office a bit of a gamble? It can, after all, be a bit of a slippery slope. To protect yourself (and your employees), it might be time to implement a gambling policy.
Here are some reasons for and against.
Pros and cons of workplace gambling
Before you prohibit all the aforementioned forms of “gambling,” keep in mind that these group activities can actually be a benefit to staff and company morale.
“If the stakes are really low, and it’s more about instilling some competitive spirit in the team, I don’t see much harm in that,” says Eric MacIntosh, an associate professor of sport management at the University of Ottawa. “People should have a little fun at work, and something like an office pool can be a way to have that fun and bond with co-workers.”
But before you call a company-wide hockey pool for the upcoming playoffs, keep in mind that you might alienate those who don’t want to participate (or, in this case, those who don’t know anything about sports).
“What if you’ve got 20 people in the office, and 15 want to be part of this office pool, and five don’t?” MacIntosh asks. “Does that make those five people a subculture in the organization?”
Chris Higgins, professor emeritus at Ivey Business School, echoes MacIntosh’s sentiment that a little office pool is generally harmless fun, but cautions to also be on the lookout for signs of trouble. “The real problem,” Higgins says, “is people spending time on gambling websites — be it online poker or sports betting — at the office. That can lead to a drop in someone’s productivity and could be a red flag for bigger issues, like gambling addiction,” he says.
According to the Centre for Additional and Mental Health (CAMH), employees with legitimate gambling problems may also be experiencing other mental and physical health issues such as depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, or stress-related illnesses.
Why gambling policies are helpful
When it comes to online gambling, Higgins says the answer is simple: Don’t allow it.
“I would restrict access to gambling sites … turn the switches off,” he says, adding most companies already block these types of websites.
As for office pools and friendly bets among coworkers, MacIntosh says there should be a “clearly articulated” set of parameters in a formal document to guard against potential problems. So what would that kind of policy entail? According to CAMH, they should focus on harm reduction and providing supports, and require backing from top levels of management.
The mental health centre also recommends blocking gambling sites, keeping accurate records on workplace performance, including gambling information in financial services for employees, and organizing social events at places other than casinos or racetracks.
Looking for more information on office gambling? Check out CAMH’s ‘Gambling and the Workplace’ resource online.