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Setting Guidelines for Celebrating Halloween in the Workplace

Question:

With Halloween right around the corner, we’d like to allow our employees to wear costumes to celebrate Halloween in the workplace but we are worried it could get out of hand. Do we need to have some kind of guidelines?

Answer:

As you may have seen, some schools have migrated away from celebrating Halloween to having a Fall Harvest celebration.  For some, Halloween represents the celebration of Satan. To others, Halloween is just a fun holiday where we dress up and “trick or treat”.  The real meaning behind Halloween was to wear costumes to ward off ghosts and over time became All Hallows Eve or the day before All Saints Day in honor of the saints.

All that said, the festivities of Halloween can be a fun team and morale boosting event in your office – dressing up, decorating your work station, or sharing treats.  While it still may only be one day, ensuring you set some guidelines for your employees to know what is okay to wear in the workplace on Halloween can help minimize problems.

Awareness: Not everyone may be comfortable in participating in the festivities and some may even find the holiday offensive.  You won’t want to make participation mandatory as it could actually create morale issues. Keep it fun and voluntary.

Culture: The culture of your organization will also impact how you handle the festivities.  How will your customers (i.e. corporate, kids, techie) respond to costumes when they interact with you for the day?

Families: Is this a holiday that would allow you to include your employees’ family? Perhaps it is a chance for the kids to come to work and trick or treat the different workstations or departments. Or maybe you have an evening bonfire with hayrides through a pumpkin patch.

Harassment: Be sure your guidelines to dress up for Halloween at the office include reminding employees of the company harassment policy.  All costumes need to be G rated to minimize hostile or harassment perceptions. Consider sharing with employees what they shouldn’t do (See 5 Rules for Celebrating Halloween at Work). As mentioned in a SHRM article, “according to a national labor and employment law attorney, who says employers could be held liable for problems resulting from Halloween garb that is sexually provocative, carries a political or social message or is just plain inappropriate for workers interacting with colleagues and clients.” Just because it is a holiday does not excuse employees from doing anything in violation of the company harassment policy.

A few tips for celebrating Halloween in the workplace according to this SHRM article include:

  • Communicating costume guidelines in advance including what not to wear
  • Don’t overact, but be sensitive
  • Be sensitive to subtleties
  • Reflect on last Halloween and feedback the company received from employees and customers
  • Consider alternative ways to celebrate
  • Be prepared to discipline if necessary

If you’d like to drive some fun into the work environment, there are many no-cost/low cost ideas to celebrating Halloween in the workplace:

  1. Office Space Decorating – Employees can bring in their unused decorations from home to keep the cost down. Make it a team event by having everyone help decorate the office and then decorating their individual workspace.
  2. Costume Theme – Create a costume theme for everyone to follow may help minimize the inappropriateness (i.e. Disney). Consider having employees donate $5 to wear a costume and donate the money to a local charity.
  3. Potluck lunch – Create a “boo-ffet” for the lunch. Make a sign-up sheet for employees to sign up for the main course, side dish, dessert, cups and napkins.
  4. Pumpkin Carving Contest – This can be a fun competition between departments and teams. Have a fun prize for the winner like a gift card to their favorite lunch place
  5. Collect Halloween candy and donate by sending care packages to the troops.

Did you know that allowing your employees to wear costumes for Halloween may even increase your employee engagement? According to an OC Tanner survey:

  • 73% of those who can dress up at work are highly motivated to contribute to the success of the organization they work for, compared to 58% of those who can’t come to work in costume.
  • 68% of those who can dress up are proud to tell others they work for their organization, compared to 58% of those who can’t.
  • 65% of those who can dress up would recommend their organization to a friend as a good place to work versus 49% of those who can’t.
  • 73% of those who can dress up fully support the values for which their organization stands, versus 58% of those who can’t.

Halloween can be a great excuse to have some fun with co-workers. You just need set some boundaries and be clear on what is crossing the line in celebrating Halloween in the workplace.

At strategic HR inc., we offer a variety of team building and team development programs targeted to help get teams back on track for success. Each program is customized to meet the team’s dynamics and needs. For more information on our Team Effectiveness Programs, click here.