Learning & Development

Pumpkin Spice and Fantasy Football: Fall is Here!

As September progresses, millions of Americans are looking forward to fall colors, pumpkin spice everything and the start of the NFL season, even as they lament the end of summer. The start of professional football also means the start of Fantasy Football for the millions of Americans who participate in leagues every year.

For the uninitiated, Fantasy Football is a multi-person, months-long game in which ordinary people act as the owners/managers of a virtual football team made up of real players. Participants take part in drafts where they select players from different positions. Participants then compete against other players in head-to-head matchups where the performance of real football players (touchdowns scored, yards, rushed, etc.) is translated into fantasy points awarded to the fantasy owner/manager who has those players on their teams.

Fantasy Football is wildly popular in the U.S., with an estimated 40 million people participating each year. So popular, in fact, that it’s not at all uncommon for employees to set up Fantasy Football leagues in the workplace.  

Coopting the Emotion of Sports for Office Bonding

People are often extremely passionate about sports, whether it’s their hometown team or their fantasy squad. That emotion can be tapped into and leveraged for greater workplace bonding and relationship building. That kind of bonding can be especially important during continued remote or hybrid work. It’s a way to build and continue connections that may be less frequent than in the past. 

It’s important to recognize, though, that football—or sports, in general—may not be top-of-mind for everyone. That’s okay. 

It’s OK if It’s Not for Everyone

One common critique of Fantasy Football in the office is that not everyone is interested in football. Many see Fantasy Football as dominated by alpha male sports types to the exclusion of others. While that stereotype is certainly exaggerated, it’s nevertheless true that there will be some who have no desire to participate.

That’s OK, says Jason Dempsey, CEO and co-founder of Home & City Living. “There’s no such thing as an all-inclusive activity as there will always be someone on a team who doesn’t like the same things as everyone else does,” Dempsey says. “And sometimes, in the professional world, you have to roll with the punches and play the hand that you’re dealt.”

Productivity Concerns for Some

While many Fantasy Football owners/managers are casual participants, others are extremely invested and engaged in the activity, so much so that many companies fear the potential productivity impacts of the game.

“As an HR manager for a company that helps businesses find PEO solutions, I’m aware of the temptation of Fantasy Football and office pools this time of year,” says Nelson Sherwin, Manager of PEO Companies. But, he says: “We do not allow any of these activities on company time or using company resources. We feel that they are distractions that can reduce productivity. If coworkers want to get together on their own time to engage in these activities, that’s their own business and beyond the scope of our policy.”

Sherwin says he feels that the negatives outweigh the benefits when it comes to Fantasy Football and other such pursuits. Their policy regarding this type of office pool is clearly laid out in their employee handbook.

While Others Feel Benefits Outweigh Potential Negatives

Still, other employers feel the benefits to employee camaraderie and morale outweigh the potential issues. They feel that they can trust their workers to be professionals and address issues if and when they might arise.

Todd Ramlin, manager of Cable Compare, says his company has no problem with Fantasy Football or other pools. “Our whole business revolves around entertainment so we want our people to have fun while they work,” he says. “As long as an activity isn’t preventing people from meeting their goals, it’s not an issue for us. It’s true that not everyone is into sports but they’re more than welcome to find other activities to engage with their coworkers in. If Fantasy Football, pools, or any other activities become too much of a distraction and become harmful to meeting goals, we will address the issue.”

Issues Around Gambling

While the bragging rights for winning a Fantasy Football league are highly valued, many leagues also involve an element of gambling—often an entry fee that gets paid out to the top performing owners/managers.

This can be one of the trickier issues around Fantasy Football in the workplace. Depending on the state, there may be laws around employer-sponsored gambling, although an office pool with nominal fees and payouts may not be an issue in many states.

It’s a good idea, though, for employers to understand the laws in their jurisdiction to ensure they aren’t running afoul of any prohibitions. Even when employers aren’t the ones sponsoring the leagues directly, they may want to consider implementing policies around gambling in the office.

Fantasy Football can be a great way to encourage social bonding between employees in the workplace—and, more frequently these days, in remote or hybrid environments. As with any other non-work activity that makes its way into the workplace, it’s important to consider potential impacts on productivity as well as inclusivity; but overall, Fantasy Football can be a great addition to an office’s employee bonding playbook.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.