Tis the season for Halloween decorations, office parties and costumes. Holiday parties can be a terrific opportunity for employee engagement, communication, team building and simply having fun with coworkers. There are tremendous benefits to gatherings such as this in the workplace. However, we should recognize when decorations, parties or costumes go awry, we will need to address these concerns. Not all employees want to participate in decorating the office, participate in the office party or wear a costume to work (me included). Leaders need to recognize that workplace rules and dress code policies still exist, while maintaining workplace professionalism. Have fun but be accountable.

Below are my 4 thoughts on Halloween pitfalls:

  1. Manger and Supervisor Training: “Some employees may be offended or even afraid to celebrate something they associate with evil, and supervisors need to be sensitive to that…Any parties, department decorations or costume contests should be clearly presented as voluntary, and equal support should be given to those who don’t participate and those who do.”[i]
  2. What Dress Code: “People magazine and Amazon have identified some popular 2018 Halloween costumes that raise red flags:
    1. An inflatable, giant “poop” emoji.
    2. A Bill Cosby costume that depicts the comedian hauling away an unconscious woman.
    3. Costumes that depict celebrities who have recently died from overdoses or committed suicide.
    4. A President costume, complete with a garish, comb-over wig. 
    5. Sexy costumes inspired by the dramatic series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which explores themes of women in subjugation.”[ii]

Halloween parties, costume events and even athletic jersey days allow employees to depart from the normal dress code, we normally expect at work. However, the dress code policy still needs to be enforced. Advice from SHRM is a simple metric, employees should be covered from shoulders to knees. Organizations should give examples of appropriate and inappropriate costumes, jerseys, or other dress down days to ensure adherence to the dress code and to proactively avoid any future pitfalls. What if an employee violates the policy? Simple, send them home to change or ask them to cover the inappropriate attire. Coach and council or discipline as needed. Set the example and hold folks accountable.

  1. Halloween Decorations: “Generally speaking, I would not advise companies to decorate,” Wilson said. “If employees want to put a small pumpkin on their desk, which can be a personal decision, but perhaps send an e-mail advising all employees that any gruesome or graphic or otherwise distracting decor is not allowed… witches, demons and goblins can be unprofessional and potentially offensive to co-workers and customers.”[iii] 
  2. Is this Mandatory: The organization should make clear, that participation in any Halloween festivities; decorating, party or costumes will be voluntary, and no one will be forced to participate.

Seasonal parties can be a magnificent event for team building, communication and having fun as an organization. As leaders, we still need to enforce rules and ensure there are no issues related to inappropriate decorations, dress code violating costumes and/or mandatory parties. Communicate expectations and hold everyone accountable. The tone is always set at the top.

[i] https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/1015-solutions.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/halloween-at-work-2018.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/halloween-at-work-2018.aspx

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