Stories about how all those basketball games and brackets are sapping workers' productivity are as inevitable this time of year as Duke or Kentucky being in the NCAA tournament bracket.

“March Madness costs $1.2 billion for every unproductive hour,” the Columbus Dispatch reported. “March Madness Ready to Distract Workers Nationwide,” wrote Fox Business. “Say Farewell to Productivity: March Madness App released,” declared PC Mag.

The headlines follow an annual report from the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which calculates the tournament's potential cost to U.S. employers. It looks at Bureau of Labor Statistics data, numbers from Turner Sports and surveys about when and how much people watch the tournament.

This year's finds that “companies stand to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament.” Although it calls those “scary numbers,” the release advises managers “not to clamp down on March Madness,” or risk doing damage to employee morale.

This yearly ritual is a little overblown. The Challenger report admits that “statistics on how many American workers are participating in office pools and watching games online when they should be working are a little harder to come by” than data on the teams playing in the tournament itself. Challenger concedes that while more than 100 million workers could be distracted by the tourney, that's only “if that survey pool was representative of the U.S. working population.” That's a big “if.”

Moreover, academic research has found that yes, work is affected by viewing games and filling out brackets, but not in a serious way. Charles Clotfelter, a professor at Duke University, wrote in 2012 that “the tournament has a profound and widespread impact on patterns of work” (he studied how often faculty and students view academic journal libraries at 75 university libraries during the tournament) but wouldn't go so far as to say it had a big impact on productivity.

“Besides the possible boost in morale associated with this annual ritual,” Clotfelter wrote on Harvard Business Review's Web site, “common sense suggests that those who follow successful teams will come to anticipate success and simply learn to budget their time, making sure to leave enough time to watch their team play.”

Corporate managers have figured this out. A survey of 300 senior leaders by OfficeTeam, a staffing service for administrative professionals, found that just 11 percent of managers think the NCAA tournament has a negative impact on productivity, with 27 percent saying it has a positive one and 62 percent saying it has no impact.

Also, 33 percent of managers said that March Madness has a positive impact on morale. That's why some companies go so far as to embrace the tournament, with friendly competitions designed to boost sales, benefits that give days off during the tournament or flexibility to watch while working.