Fantasy football vs. cubicle reality

Are you ready for some football?

Fantasy football leaguers are ready, but they first have to get around the offensive line manned by employers.

A look at the scoreboard shows that fantasy football leaguers could cost companies nationwide an estimated $9.2 billion in lost productivity over the 17-week NFL season, according to a report released last week.

Yet employers who come down too hard this season, which kicks off Sept. 4, risk putting a hit on office morale.

So says John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. The company estimated the $9.2 billion tab based on figures from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Association.

Challenger said “companies need different ways to bring their people together to create relationships and make the organization more than the sum of its parts. If a bunch of fantasy footballers build relationships with each other through participation in a league, that can be very valued.”

Tony Leteri, president of Leteri Waste Management in Kings Park, N.Y., has no objections to his 11 employees engaging in fantasy football leagues – as long as it's not taken to excess.

“It's another way to improve the atmosphere in an office,” he said. “Just don't take advantage of the boss.”

John Putzier, a human resources consultant in Prospect, Pa., said fantasy football is just the high-tech version of low-tech wastebasket basketball.

“It's up to employers to look at it case by case,” he said. “It boils down to outcome. Does the person produce?”

If not, he said, it's just like absenteeism or tardiness: “You warn them … and terminate them” if warnings go unheeded.

Tim Brown, marketing manager for Active Web Group in Hauppauge, N.Y., is not only a fantasy football fan, but he also runs a league to which several of his colleagues belong.

He said very little office time is spent on the activity because football games are played just once a week. He admits that he's seen colleagues from former jobs become obsessive in the workplace. But he said he does most of his league work at home, checking scores occasionally during the workday for what amounts to less time than a coffee break.

“I care about my job,” he said.