Illustration: Mick Connolly
Maybe it's 1991. Anyhow, it's today, but 20 odd years ago. I'm doing what I normally do, walking the corridors, jingling as I go. I always make sure anyone who wants to be in the sweep is actually in the sweep. I try to make sure I've filled out every single spot and sold every possible ticket so I can be very neat with the day's takings.
It may be Melbourne Cup day, festival of the horse and hat, but it's also Melbourne Cup sweep day, a time-honoured tradition in Australian culture, a moment where we learn to play nicely with our colleagues.
It's the one day of the year we do that. Even organisational psychologists confess that sweeps may be good for business.
In every office, there is a loser like me, someone who runs this strange game of chance.
The idea, for people who have just arrived in Australia, is that you pay a certain amount of money to play a game of chance involving Australia's most famous horse race, the Melbourne Cup. All the horses are listed on a sheet, usually published in the daily newspaper. And that page gets cut into pieces, so that every slip of paper can be first scrunched up, placed in a hat or envelope and then individually pulled out and assigned to those who have entered the sweep.
On the staff noticeboard, there is usually a list of who scored which horse.
This is the game of chance you play if you cannot abide going into betting shops or giving your money to SportsCentreHouseBet. Those places make you believe that knowledge will help you make accurate gambling decisions. Whereas sweeps are about glorying in your ignorance of jockeys and form and track.
Why do I sweep early? Organising the winnings is a pain. Basically, there are 24 horses. Each sweep chance costs, maybe, $5. And for the neurotically organised, such as me, by midday I have parcelled up the winnings like so: the person who has the horse that comes last gets their sweep money back; the person whose horse comes third gets twice the money back; the person who comes second gets six times the money back; and the winner gets the rest.
Almost anyone who runs a sweep, runs more than one … the $2, the $5, the $10. So there is a lot of what Mum used to call fiddle-arsing around, putting it all in envelopes with the amount marked on the front.
So this one time, about 20 years ago, a horse gets scratched about 10 minutes out from the start of the race. The race is run. I hand out all the winnings. And the woman whose horse has been scratched takes me to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission because I didn't return her money.
Well, she didn't actually take me to the ACCC, but she certainly spent the rest of that week insinuating I had spent the money on Rio. She must have meant the underpants, because $5 wouldn't have bought me anything else.
And, I'm sad to say, I have never ever, ever had the winning sweep ticket. Haven't had my money back. Nothing.
Leanne Faraday-Brash, the organisational psychologist who heads the media panel for the Australian Psychological Society, says she has never heard of corruption in a Melbourne Cup sweep, but she does think there are some risks around this kind of office activity. It can be a moment when workers are coerced into contributing - or when the person doing the organising might be skiving off their real work (which then has to get picked up by the rest of the team).
''Any activity that engages and takes their minds off the pressure of work and creates positive connections between work colleagues can only be a good thing,'' she says.
Laughter and levity are terrific for group cohesion - but it is also important, she stresses, not to attack those who don't want to participate. (I must stop calling non-contributors Mr or Mrs Grinch.)
And Deborah Blackman, professor of management at the University of Canberra, says: ''To have that kind of social experience is an important part of what we do - and if it doesn't happen in your office, you have got to ask why it doesn't.''
Blackman says that having face-to-face interaction - even if it is just the office sweep - can really improve productivity and cites the case of a British call centre manager whose workplace was at risk. He had been called in to oversee its closure but implemented some small changes that helped workers connect with each other. It turned into the most profitable side of the business.
She says there are also even more important lessons to learn from this kind of transaction.
Blackman and her team have just completed a report on performance management for the Australian Public Service Commission. She says: ''It talks about the need for capability and pragmatism - and I think that social networking is part of that.''
So, the way the experts see it, the sweep's good for the bottom line. Just sadly, not mine.