Zombies & Politicians: Defining ‘Office Appropriate’ Halloween Costumes

Oct 27 2016

Amy McGeorge as Lucille BallAs the CEO of a company where it’s a tradition to dress up for Halloween, I can tell you this holiday requires detailed communication over what is appropriate. After some seriously eye-rolling moments, I quickly found out that the words “office appropriate” mean different things to each person. If you’re planning to let your team indulge in a little Halloween fun, it’s smart to spell out the rules. And if you’re wondering whether I dress up, this photo of my costume last year should dispel any rumors. Here are my 4 guidelines for Halloween costumes in the workplace:

1. Define who can dress up.
It’s important to think about who employees engage with and the type of work they do when it comes to setting boundaries on costumes. For example, employees in client-facing roles should be mindful of conservative clients. This can be as simple as selecting a costume that is easy to change out of before visiting a client. Similarly, employees operating machinery should be mindful of costumes that can get caught in a machine and cause a disastrous workers’ comp situation. A good way to get around this is to make all managers responsible for ensuring their team is dressed appropriately for the kind of work they perform.

2. Spell out what constitutes a costume that is offensive, revealing, or violent.
You’d think you wouldn’t have to spell it out, but you absolutely do. The larger your company, the more people you have to worry about offending. I’ve found it’s best to be very candid about what is (and is not) allowed. A good place to start is to set limits on length, style, accessories/weapons, and level of “grossness” allowed.

3. Offer examples of costumes that ARE and are NOT appropriate.
Slideshow time! I’ve actually given a PowerPoint presentation on appropriate and inappropriate Halloween costumes. You’d be surprised at the responses too. This is where you realize how different everyone’s concept is of “appropriate.” Expect to receive a lot of amusing questions.

4. Suggest that people who don’t know if their costume is appropriate speak to HR.
No matter what you say and do, you’ll invariably have at LEAST one person come up to you after you’ve talked about the “rules” and this person will say that now they’re not sure if their costume is appropriate. Instead of hashing it out with them, refer them to HR (if you have an HR team) or tell them to take a photo of the costume and show it to you.

In past years, our team has participated in a variety of Halloween themed activities. One year we held a desk decorating contest. I was blown away by the creativity and hard work that went into this. People stayed after hours to decorate their desks and took it very seriously. One team created a haunted castle out of cardboard boxes and added paint and cobwebs. The wining team (which I’m happy to admit I was part of) created a graveyard with fake tombstones for each employee and a witty poem for each person. It was great fun and proved to be a nice team building activity. Last year we had a Halloween themed potluck and costume contest where you can see I dressed up as Lucille Ball. I didn’t win, but I had a blast judging the different costumes. Taking time out to have a little fun is a great way to bond with your team and lighten the mood a little bit. 

Happy Halloween!



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