Stephanie Dwilson

Halloween at Work: Determining Workplace Policies

Does the spookiest time of year have a place in the office? Celebrating Halloween at work can give coworkers a fun opportunity to bond over clever costumes, but at the same time you want to avoid anything offensive.

The key to embracing the creepy and the supernatural without leaving any of your employees in real tears is to set your Halloween workplace policies in advance.

Here’s a look at what makes a workplace Halloween the perfect balance of fun and respectful, as well as how to communicate your policies in a way that still encourages employees to have fun (which is, after all, what the holiday is all about).

Establishing Policies for Halloween

Halloween can be a great excuse to run fun contests, eat delicious snacks and enjoy some team-building exercises. You might even manage all three in one — the team that bobs for apples together stays together.

Just remember that employees may have different ideas of what costumes are appropriate for the workplace. If you let your office celebrate, write a costume policy. Consider outlining the rules in person during a meeting and then emailing them out as well to make sure everyone sees them. Your policy sheet can also include the activities of the day, such as an agenda of contests or parties, so employees know that the policy isn’t meant to stop anyone from dressing up or having a good time.

You may want your policy to emphasize that costumes should be G-rated. To cover your bases, steer away from drafting a policy with separate guidelines for men and women — neither should wear revealing or sexually explicit costumes on the day. Warn employees about any themes they need to avoid; depending on the workplace, political, racial or religious costumes may be out of bounds. You’ll want to fend off any budding ideas of dressing as a pimp, terrorist, Nazi or the like. The same goes for anything depicting animal cruelty, refugees or a national tragedy. If employees want to dress up as a historical figure, tell them that blackface paint is prohibited. It may be a good idea to ban fake weapons, too.

Since it’s tough to list every costume that could possibly be offensive, your policy statement might just list examples and general themes to avoid. You can also provide questions people can ask themselves before choosing a costume: “Will this embarrass me or offend someone? Will it cause political debate?”

If you allow decorations, make sure that they’re held to the same standards as costumes — with a few possible additions. Think about, for example, whether it makes sense in your office to ban graphic or gruesome decorations. In some cases, you might want to outlaw the “darker side” of the holiday (such as witches or demons, which could offend religious employees) and instead ask employees to focus on lighter themes.

Devising Workplace Celebration Ideas

Within those guidelines, there’s a lot of room to have fun. You might:

  • Organize a costume or decorating contest.
  • Invite employees to bring their children for crafts or pumpkin carvings.
  • Have a baking contest.
  • Lay out a catered workplace luncheon.

In some workplaces, you might want to avoid alcohol and serve apple cider instead. Try setting aside specific times during the day for the festivities so employees still have time to get all their work done.

Deciding Whether to Skip Halloween

There aren’t a lot of situations that would call for skipping Halloween altogether. If you have major deadlines approaching, you might not hold a big party, but you can still let your staff dress up. Even churches frequently hold “fall festivals” on Halloween to celebrate. In fact, one survey reported that 73% of respondents who are allowed to dress up for Halloween felt motivated to help their company succeed, compared to 58% who weren’t allowed to dress up.

If your business caters to a serious clientele or handles situations where lighthearted costumes might be inappropriate, then it may make sense to skip the costumes. Your employees might still appreciate having a party or catered lunch to celebrate, even if everyone’s still in their usual clothes. You can also choose to celebrate with a volunteer activity instead, like visiting a children’s hospital, putting together a charity fund or visiting a senior citizen center.

Making Halloween Inclusive

If you’re celebrating Halloween at work, make sure that your celebration is inclusive. If you have contests, they should be contests that everyone can participate in. Offer healthy snacks and sugar-free candy in addition to sugar-loaded trick-or-treating classics. If you have a children’s contest, offer something for adults so that employees without children can still have fun.

Halloween can be a fun time for your staff as long as you establish workplace policies to make sure your celebration is truly for everyone. Create a simple policy sheet with your office’s guidelines, coupled with a plan for the day including parties or contests, and you’ve got the makings of a fun, productive (and, of course, spooky) day.

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