Grass Skirts Become Olympic Apparel for Workers Competing on Job

The opening ceremony for’s annual Office Olympics features a parade of athletes in what passes for a nation’s identity -- grass skirts for Belize, mummies for Egypt, live sheep for Ireland.

“And of course, we had to do a little drinking,” said Greg Moyer, chief people officer of the Richmond, Virginia-based hiring company.

The competition that follows the march around the parking lot includes trashcan basketball, desk-chair soccer and paper-ball curling. It’s among Olympics-themed competitions cropping up this year as employers capitalize on the excitement surrounding the London Games, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its July 16 issue.

“We try to get people who don’t work together on the same team,” says Moyer. “It’s a way for Snagajob to improve relationships and communication.”

British corporate-event planners have started offering Olympics-themed packages. U.S. companies have hosted multisport tournaments in which winners are awarded fake medals.

“The Olympics idea came from a couple of our employees,” says Chris Massot, vice president of sales at Synapse, a 200-person product-development company that has offices in Seattle, San Francisco and Hong Kong. “We hold a lot of fun events here, probably one every couple of weeks, and we wanted to do one that tapped into the buzz around the real Olympics as they’re going on.”

Wall Climb

The London Games run from July 27 through Aug. 12. Synapse plans to launch its competition on Aug. 2. The schedule hasn’t been completed, but there are plans for synchronized wall climbing, beer-bottle relay and Nerf gun contests. Employees will be able to watch the real games on the company’s big-screen televisions. There will be a closing ceremony, tentatively scheduled to take place during the real thing, with prizes awarded to the winners.

Office Olympics tend to be lighthearted and not too competitive.

“One of our events was beer pong,” said Seth Besmertnik, chief executive officer of Conductor Inc., a 65-person software company in New York City.

With no outdoor space, Besmertnik said, he threw his employees an Office Olympics as a reward for hitting a revenue goal last February at a local billiards club. Teams played pool, billiards and dice games, and managed to fit in one real Olympic sport -- table tennis.

All Wet

Climate is a problem for some British companies. London event-planner Inneventive offered Office Olympics-themed parties this year, assuming that companies would consider it a way to celebrate Britain’s role as host country.

“But we’ve had the most hideous summer, tons of rain, and it hasn’t been very popular,” said Phillipa Whitney, Inneventive’s director. “A couple of clients have ducked out of events because they didn’t want to get soaking wet.”

Simon Mugglestone, the founder of Phoenix Leisure Events, an event-planning company based in Devon, England, said his firm has offered an Office Olympics program for the past six years, with the indoor version more popular than the outdoor.

There has been slight increase in Olympics-themed events this year, he said, “but the big boost has been with companies who are ordering up individual sports that we offer, like archery and clay pigeon shooting, and organizing an Olympics tournament themselves.”

The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which runs the true version, has cracked down on unlicensed use of the term “Olympic” in Britain.

Sponsors Only

“We would advise companies which are not London 2012 sponsors against using it for any programs that they run, internal or external,” the agency said in an e-mail.

The U.S. Olympic Committee recently asked the online knitting group Ravelry to rename its Ravelympics, in which more than 7,500 people are set to knit, crochet or sew during the London Games.

This was the third year that Snagajob has hosted its Office Olympics, the weeklong competition taking place during the middle of the workday. The company added a hot-dog-eating competition and a staring contest this year, but Moyer says the most popular sport remains desk-chair soccer.

It’s a regular game of soccer, except that all of the players are seated in swivel chairs.

“Everyone comes out to watch as different teams -- sorry, countries --- are eliminated over several days,” Moyer said. “It’s a rough-and-tumble game. Chairs overturn, people get very competitive.”

The medal table was topped by a surprise winner.

“We didn’t have high hopes for them,” Moyer said. “I mean, they’re Canada.”

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