Halloween, originally a pagan festival that began over 2,000 years ago, is a day that evokes both positive and negative feelings in many people. For some, it’s a nostalgic day as they remember their childhood costumes, Trick-or-Treating and more candy than any sane parent would normally allow. For others, it’s a day of incredible stress when, after working a full day, they give out candy to hordes of children or dress their own children up and take them out into the masses. While Halloween is not an official holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving, it is considered the second largest commercial holiday in the United States. According to CNN’s Halloween statistics for 2017, “More than 179 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year, with seven out of ten consumers planning to hand out candy. Total spending in 2017 will reach $9.1 billion, with the average consumer planning to spend $86.13 on decorations, candy, costumes and more.” (https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/us/halloween-fast-facts/index.html)
Since companies don’t usually consider the Halloween holiday in terms of giving a day off for their employees, many employers plan and host company-wide activities to celebrate the holiday. As employers consider Halloween activities in their workplace, they are wise to think through the pros and cons involved in any event they sanction. On the positive side, celebrating Halloween by allowing employees to dress up in fun, yet appropriate costumes, and having activities associated with the holiday such as a sponsoring a pumpkin carving contest or decorating work areas may promote an atmosphere of playfulness and break down barriers among departments or teams. Halloween celebrations may build team skills, promote creativity and develop camaraderie, all of which are activities that help reduce stress and shape a positive company culture among employees. However, it’s important to remember potentially adverse aspects as well, especially in light of compliance with federal and state laws. Below are a few words of caution as well as suggestions on incorporating Halloween festivities in the workplace:
- Respecting the diverse opinions of employees is critical to the success of any celebration and no employee should feel pressure to participate. All events should be voluntary and companies should ask employees what activities they’d like to participate in, if anything. Sending out a survey prior to the holiday asking how employees would like to celebrate is critical to the celebration’s success. Involving employees in the planning activities also can be beneficial. They may have creative ideas for involving coworkers who typically don’t participate in company-sponsored activities.
- Employers should be sensitive to employee feelings about Halloween. Some may simply not believe in the holiday or they may object to the celebratory events as frivolous and inappropriate for the workplace. Others may object because they believe that Halloween celebrates death and the occult or they consider celebrating Halloween as “worshiping the devil.” On the other hand, some employees, who may be followers of the Celtic-based religion Wicca, may consider Halloween a religious holiday. Employers may need to accommodate these employees if an employee requests the day off as a religious holiday. So, employers should be prepared to address this issue should it occur. Religious accommodations need to be made consistently within the workplace and in compliance with federal and state laws.
- One of the most common activities associated with Halloween is, of course, dressing up in costumes. It’s important for employers to set guidelines on the types of costumes and accessories that may be worn or brought into the workplace. Sexually suggestive, politically-themed, culturally insensitive, or obsessively scary costumes that are not appropriate may need to be banned and accessories like guns, swords, etc., even if they are fake, should be left at home. In an era where there are continual workplace violence concerns and sexual harassment claims all over the news, many costumes may not be appreciated by employees and leave the employer open to potential legal action. However, if an employee shows up in an inappropriate costume, employers are encouraged to favor a light touch when dealing with that employee. HR professionals or the planning team could bring in funny clothing items such as long underwear, overalls, etc. for the employee to change in to, should their costume be deemed inappropriate. Make it fun!
- Safety is a big concern for employers as they consider appropriate yet fun activities on Halloween. Wearing costumes with flowing robes near large machinery is an injury waiting to happen. Activities such as carving pumpkins and putting lit candles inside carved pumpkins are potential safety concerns. Other activities should be weighed for safety concerns. Holding an inter-departmental relay race, where employees careen through the halls pushing mail carts may promote friendly departmental competition but cause injury or damage to property. Halloween pranking may also need to be addressed as a safety concern, especially in a workplace culture that is geared toward younger adults. Costumes, decorations and activities should never violate fire or safety codes.
- Halloween is a great time to showcase employee talents and hobbies outside of the normal workplace. There may be an employee who enjoys taking pictures and videos who would agree to record and memorialize the Halloween festivities so that coworkers can later watch and enjoy the memory of the day. The planning team may consider asking employees who like to bake whether they would consider providing a special dessert for the celebration or participate in a bake-off. This would be a great time to show off employee talents and, afterwards, everyone can indulge in the delightful results of their hobby. Of course, it’s recommended that the planning team add healthy alternatives to sweets and be sensitive to food allergies that employees may have.
- Some companies make Halloween a family day and invite the children of employees for events such as trick or treating, bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins (with safe equipment, of course). This builds a bond between employees and their coworkers and helps the employees’ families feel more connected to their loved one’s workplace.
- Linking the Halloween events to a charitable cause may help to get everyone involved. This will combine the fun of the holiday with a serious purpose. Some employees who may not typically participate in activities may be drawn to this idea. Raise money for a local charity by having employees pay a fee if they want to dress up. Hold Halloween-themed competitions among departments to raise money for a common cause, which promotes teamwork and helps the employees feel like they are giving to others. Allow employees to spend the day volunteering at a local homeless shelter or non-for-profit organization. Whatever the employer decides to do should be geared to try and involve everyone but, again, activities should be voluntary without pressure to participate.
Employee objections, legal questions and religious issues should not mean that an employer should ban celebrations and forget the holiday. With the appropriate planning and sensitivity to employee feelings, employers may sponsor a fun environment and promote camaraderie while celebrating the ghoulish holiday.
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Originally written by: Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP
Updated by: Kathi Walker, SHRM-SCP, PHR
Sr. HR Consultant