At Senico, a Web applications firm in Deep Ellum, the brackets have been distributed and the road to the Final Four displayed on a poster for all to see.  Those kinds of March Madness machinations are underway nationwide, fueling debate over the productivity lost to tournament enthusiasm vs. the boost in employee morale for companies that encourage participation - within reason, of course.

But for some, the frenzy comes at a cost: Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm, predicts U.S. companies will lose a collective $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the tournament's first week alone.

"The first week ... is particularly hazardous," said John A. Challenger, the firm's chief executive. "While March Madness distractions may not alter the nation's quarterly GDP numbers, you can be assured that department managers and network administrators notice the effect on work output and company-wide Internet speeds."  In other words, they're watching you. But at Senico, they even support you.

"I don't think it's a distraction," said Senico controller Amanda Soutter, one of the company's office-pool organizers and its self-proclaimed biggest sports fan amid a sea of techies. "We'll just let these guys do their picks and see what happens."

The company sees the tournament - which crowns its champion next month at AT&T Stadium - as another way to engage employees, she said, among the recreational activities it offers to keep its team motivated. Earlier this year, the company conducted a Super Bowl pool, too.

Challenger, Gray and Christmas' Grinch-y report said productivity is lost as employees set up pools, painstakingly fill out brackets, or talk tourney with co-workers - about which teams did or didn't make it, one's predictions and so on.

But workplace consultants discourage companies from coming down too hard on office-pool participation, saying the benefits to office morale outweigh any lost productivity.

Dusty Staub, a North Carolina-based leadership expert, said companies have to strike a balance between getting things done and keeping employees happy. Those that don't risk losing what's referred to as discretionary effort, that little extra bit of effort employees put in when they're engaged.

"You can destroy that if people feel like they don't matter," Staub said. "People are going to be distracted. But you will get more out of them than if you try to shut them off."  Even the killjoy Challenger, Gray and Christmas report said as much. "At the end of the day, it is unlikely that a few days of March Madness distraction will impact the company's bottom line," Challenger said.