It is that time of year when companies and their employees are planning for the second largest commercial holiday in the United States, Halloween. Before employers automatically plan on supporting Halloween activities in their workplace, they need to think through the pros and cons of doing so. Here are some ideas to consider prior to celebrating that ghoulish holiday.
Pros – Celebrating the Halloween holiday by allowing employees to dress up in their favorite, yet tasteful costumes, and having activities associated with the holiday, e.g. a pumpkin carving contest, playing games, decorating work areas, etc. may promote an atmosphere of playfulness and break down barriers among work groups. Halloween celebrations may build team skills, promote creativity and develop camaraderie. All activities that work environments need to help reduce stress and shape a positive company culture among their employees.
Cons – Some employees may not believe in the holiday. They may object because they believe that the holiday celebrates death and the occult. Or, they may object to the celebratory events as frivolous and inappropriate for the workplace. Others may believe celebrating the holiday is considered as “worshiping the devil.”
So, dealing with the pros and cons of having such events means that employers need to think through their company-related Halloween activities. They need to ensure that the celebrations respect the diverse opinions of employees and that no one feels pressured to participate. All events should be voluntary and companies should ask employees what they want to participate in, if anything. Sending out a survey prior to the holiday asking how employees would like to celebrate is critical to the celebrations success. Letting employee committees plan their own activities also adds to the success. Implementing activities that everyone wants to participate in makes the cons seem less important and the pros more achievable.
Linking the Halloween events to a charitable cause may help to get everyone involved too. This will combine the fun of the holiday with a serious purpose. 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.
Employers need to make sure that they are regulating what type of costumes and accessories may be worn or brought into the workplace. Sexually suggestive or obsessively scary costumes that are not appropriate may need to be banned and accessories like fake guns, swords, etc. should be left at home. In an era where there are continual workplace violence concerns, these items may not be appreciated by employees and leave the employer open to legal action. Employers are encouraged to favor a light touch when dealing with inappropriate costumes. HR professionals or the employee committee 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!
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 the 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.
Employee objections, legal questions and religious issues should not mean that an employer should ban the costumes and forget the holiday. With the appropriate planning and remembering to be sensitive to all employees, employers may sponsor a fun environment and promote camaraderie while celebrating the ghoulish holiday.
Written by: Kristen Shingleton Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP