Two glowing jack-o-lanterns

Halloween Celebrations in the Office: Do, or Don't?

by Kimberly Horton, on October 16, 2017
Fall is in the air, and Halloween costumes are stocked on the shelves of stores everywhere. Many people want to get into the spirit of the season, but what if the spirit (no pun intended) extends into the workplace? Is that taking Halloween too far?

Is Celebrating Halloween Right for Your Business?
Businesses everywhere toy with the idea of whether to allow employees to participate in Halloween festivities at work. Sure, it’s a great morale booster and can be a way to energize your work environment by allowing your employees to let their hair down and have fun at work. But what if someone’s choice of costume could be considered offensive to others?

Certainly, Halloween festivities at work aren’t for everyone. There are businesses that go all out and hold employee Halloween costume contests, complete with cash prizes for winners and full-blown, large scale theme decorations in the work area for customers to see. Some customers loved it and each year would add stopping by to their “to do” lists just to see what the employees came up with.

On the flip side, there are also companies that are very conservative in nature and limit Halloween festivities to wearing a holiday shirt or a set of bobble ears on your head. It’s not that the latter business had a “bah humbug” approach, but there were legitimate safety concerns that forced them to forego the festivities. Every company is different, and it boils down to an assessment of the nature of your business, your interaction with customers, and the culture of your organization.

Choosing Festivities that Fit Your Company Culture
If the nature of your business, interaction with customers and/or organizational culture, do not lend themselves to full participation in Halloween festivities, then you might want to ditch any Halloween costume party ideas and have an employee potluck in its place; or, you might consider allowing employees’ children to come trick-or-treating to the office. If you’ve tried a Halloween costume celebration in the past and participation was low, there may be a reason for that. The culture of your organization may not embrace a big Halloween celebration, and that’s OK.

Halloween Costumes
If your culture and business do lend themselves to Halloween participation, where do you draw the line? Most companies already have a dress code in place, and Halloween costumes should fall in line with what is already established. In essence, if a costume has a skirt, it should at least be the length of what your dress code allows. What you may be able to “get away with” at an after-hours, non-work related party is much different than what would be considered appropriate at the office. In creating a Halloween dress code, your work environment should be considered.

For instance, if your work area is in a hospital or a physician’s office, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to allow employees to dress as ghosts, skeletons, or the Grim Reaper. If you work in a bank, you might want to prohibit employees’ ability to wear a mask or face paint where their identity couldn’t easily be determined. Similarly, you might not want employees dressed as law enforcement or military personnel for security reasons, and if you work with children, scary costumes might need to be off limits.

Setting Boundaries
Clearly, boundaries need to be set, and a good way to do that is to appoint a committee to come up with a set of guidelines. In the best case scenario, a member of your HR Department should represent at least one of the seats on that committee. The committee will want to address not only what type of attire is appropriate for your business, but also any safety hazards based on employees’ jobs. For instance, if you have employees working in a kitchen or around machinery, you will want to set limits on what type of costumes are allowed in order to protect employees’ safety.

Participation in Halloween festivities for employees should not be mandatory, and your committee should come up with a list of acceptable and unacceptable examples of costumes. For instance, they might provide a list costumes that routinely offend people, such as those that show too much skin, exaggerate body parts, or mock sexual orientation, immigration status, race, ethnicity, a political party, religion, etc.

Whether or not a committee is utilized, setting parameters and determining a course of action in case someone shows up wearing an inappropriate costume is important. Just because it’s Halloween doesn’t mean the Sexual Harassment policy gets thrown out of the window. Requiring employees to bring a change of clothing so they can change if dressed inappropriately is one option, and publishing a clear set of Halloween rules that lists potential disciplinary actions for those who may be tempted to ignore those rules is always a good idea.

If you decide to partake in Halloween festivities, be sure to have supervisors ready to step up and lead by example. They will need to be the front line of dressing and acting professionally, just as they will need to be ready to hold employees who cross the line accountable.
Kimberly Horton

Kim Horton has nearly 20 years of Human Resources experience in corporate, financial, manufacturing, customer service and consulting environments, collectively. She currently serves as an HR Manager for LandrumHR. Her experience in the field has been acquired through focus on employee relations, training and development, team building, employment law compliance, strategic planning, high-level talent assessment and succession planning, employment law compliance, and employee compensation and benefits. Kim holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. During her course of study, her primary research and thesis focused on procedural and distributive justice in both formal and informal mentoring relationships and perceptions of fairness. Her work was selected for presentation during a poster session at the national Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference. She has also taught at the college level for both graduate and undergraduate courses in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Kim is a member of the national chapter of Society for Human Resources Management.

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