Office dynamics around the holidays can be tricky, especially when it comes to the big question: to dress up or not for Halloween at work. It might be a little off-putting to see Dale from accounting dressed as a giant purple crayon or your boss embracing her inner Lady Gaga, but it turns out letting people celebrate with Halloween costumes at work might be good for office morale.
That’s according to a recent survey by employee engagement company O.C. Tanner, which found engagement was higher when workers were allowed to dress up for Halloween. More than 950 full-time employees were asked if their company allowed them to wear a costume for the holiday: Notably, 73% of survey respondents who were able to dress up for Halloween said they felt highly motivated to contribute toward their company’s success — versus only 58% for those who were not allowed.
“Halloween is a great opportunity to increase engagement and well-being amongst teams,” Gary Beckstrand, vice president at O.C. Tanner, said in an emailed statement. “But it’s less about the fact that people are dressing up or going to an office party, and more about the byproducts of allowing employees to do those types of things.”
Overall, only about 45% of respondents said they could definitely dress in costume at the office and 20% said they were unsure — yet 61% said they thought employees should be able to dress up.
Dressing for Halloween can be fun, but how do you be sure a day at the office in costume is done in good fun (and good taste)? In some cases, a politically charged costume, for example, can be more distracting than motivating — and could even get you in trouble. And allowing costumes could always open the door for employees to criticize management, as one worker did in 2013, Salon reported then. The employee, who was fighting to unionize, insisted it was meant in good fun, but management was not laughing as he reportedly went around handing out chocolate coins, saying, “You’re not going to get any money here until you get a union” — ultimately facing disciplinary action.
So how can you boost morale at your company with Halloween fun that doesn’t cause conflict?
First and foremost, avoid any confusion about office-acceptable costumes and festivities by setting a few ground rules. Here are three suggestions.
1. Lay down a Halloween costume code
Even Halloween should have a few ground rules so you can avoid awkwardness. Depending on your job, wearing fangs may not be compatible if you need to do a lot of talking or a mask may be inappropriate if you are waiting on customers. Also, safety should be a priority, so establish rules on what could pose a hazard, and have an idea about how gross of a costume everyone can get away with at work, as CBS MoneyWatch suggested in 2012.
Some basic rules can address whether or not employees can alter their uniform, keeping costumes politically neutral and making sure your costume isn’t disruptive to those around you. Of course, there should also be leeway for those who don’t want to participate.
2. Formally invite employees to dress up
To avoid any confusion or mystery surrounding the do’s and don’ts of Halloween at your office, send a memo or invitation, or post flyers. That way there isn’t any confusion about costume guidelines or if it’s OK to dress up. Include any policy guidelines or specific rules, especially if you deal directly with customers at your office.
Also, if you are throwing a party, send a formal invitation to dress up or attend, as HuffPost suggested in 2013. Include details on party times, location and what food or drinks will be served.
Some offices like to take the festivities to the after-hours, which can be a blast — but a few steps should be taken before you jump into party mode. Even if the function is held after-hours or off-site, remind employees it is still a work event, Inc suggested in 2014. This means no behavior that is inconsistent with the company’s values. Also, make sure employees know the party is not mandatory: just a fun way to get together and celebrate Halloween.
3. Use the occasion for team-building
An easy way to ensure you don’t end up having to cringe your way through your day is to have departments or teams of employees agree on a theme and costume ideas, Career Builder suggested in 2014. Not only will you have checks and balances before employees show up at work, but you can also bounce costume ideas off of each other so you’ll know what is appropriate (and what is not).
The group approach has worked well for 20 years at Interim HealthCare in Sunrise, Florida: “The tradition of dressing up at work started over 20 years ago when our CEO at the time was a total Halloween fanatic,” Melinda Renick, accounting manager, wrote in an email to Mic. “That CEO is no longer with us, but we’ve tried to keep the tradition going. Some departments do a group theme, but others do a solo thing. There are prizes for best costume, scariest costume and best group. Since my department is one of the bigger ones in the company, we like to do a group theme.”
In the past, Renick’s department has done themes like “Under the Sea” and “Heroes and Villains.”
Finally, if you choose to keep the celebrations during work hours, try to make sure employees can actually get some work done, according to ZipRecruiter. Although costumes and candy may be distracting, you should still create an environment that is conducive to productivity, even while munching on candy corn in costume.
Motivate employees to still reach goals during the day and keep Halloween-specific events (such as costume contests and socializing) to a certain time. Or you could always wait to host festivities until after quitting time — to ensure everyone can reach targets and finish the day ahead. And keep in mind, some employees may need to race home to take little ones trick-or-treating, so keep after-hours party time to a minimum.
Finally, if you plan to serve alcohol, you’ll need to take certain precautions to protect your company and employees, the Balance suggests. If you offer booze, Halloween is a great time to offer free car rides home for safety.
Still stumped on what to wear to work Tuesday? We have 50 fun and easy $50-or-less ideas here ripe for the (pumpkin) picking.
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