Business as usual, but still up for the Cup

Race-day functions bring spring carnival to the workplace, writes Gayle Bryant.

Race-day functions bring spring carnival to the workplace, writes Gayle Bryant.

Not all of us are able to make it to the track on Melbourne Cup day, so many organisations will host some type of function to make sure their employees don't miss out on the "race that stops a nation".

So how do you get the most out of your Cup party?

To get into the spirit, many employers organise sweepstakes, let their employees dress in race-day fashions and run competitions for best-dressed employee. In fact, competitions are one of the best ways to get employees into the Cup spirit.

Car-rental comparison company VroomVroomVroom holds a Melbourne Cup office party every year, where competitions prevail.

Director Richard Eastes says last year it hosted a neighing competition. "The winner gave a very convincing neigh, utilising a full range of vocals," Eastes says. "We also invited our office neighbours over for sweepstakes, food and a fancy hat competition. I remember the male winner was sporting a chicken head tea cosy."

Real estate agency Novak Agency hosts a party each year. Owner Mark Novak says the office needs to stay open but this works well because the locals tend to pop in.

"We have a very multicultural office and last year asked everyone to bring in a dish that represented their heritage," Novak says. "One staff member brought in a Persian dish and we had other food representing Greece, Italy and Asia.

"We also have one staff member who is a disc jockey, so we had great music and dancing."

Novak says the concept worked because everyone felt part of it. "Everyone dressed up. The girls had on their hats and fascinators and the guys wore their scarfs and we were giving prizes for best-dressed."

While employers always need to be aware of their duty of care, this requirement is even more important during office functions. Duty of care comes under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and employers are responsible for their workers, whether their functions are held on or off site.

Novak says alcohol is a no-go for his company's Melbourne Cup party, until employees have finished work.

"Our duty of care around alcohol is very important," he says. "There is absolutely no alcohol allowed during working hours. Many of our staff are on the road so it is a flat 'no' until they've finished working."

Decorating the office also adds to the race-day spirit. The Party People's Dean Salakas provides decorations for Melbourne Cup parties, plus costumes and games. "The most popular items are jockey hats," he says. "We sell thousands of cardboard, plastic and material jockey hats. The next most popular are horse and jockey cut-outs."

Businesses that have only a few staff need not miss out on the fun.

Executive coach Noelene Dawes says they can always join with several other companies to form one big party. "I work for myself and tend to join other groups, which is a great idea if you are a small business," she says.

"I'm a member of Women in Finance and a couple of years ago went along to a party they organised for several small businesses. It's good because all you need to do is pay your money and turn up. You also get to meet people you may not meet in normal circumstances."

Event tips

Have someone oversee the function.

Staff should be reminded of the company's standards of behaviour, especially regarding alcohol, discrimination and sexual harassment.

Organise fun prizes to get people into the spirit of the day.

Provide catering to give the event a special feel.

Delegate someone to organise the sweep.

Organise somewhere comfortable to view the race.

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