Halloween may be the spookiest time of the year, but it doesn't have to be frightening for HR professionals. Organizations can plan a fun event that is work-appropriate and accessible to all employees.
Janelle Owens, SHRM-CP, HR director of Test Prep Insight, said an office-based scavenger hunt remains her favorite Halloween celebration to date. The clues were Halloween-themed riddles and puzzles, and some employees dressed up and hid in broom closets to scare people. The scavenger hunt lasted 20 to 30 minutes, and the prize was a giant pumpkin head filled with candy and a $100 gift card to Starbucks.
"It was a blast. It is my favorite office Halloween celebration," Owens said.
Any Halloween event—whether it occurs in person or virtually—should be voluntary. With that in mind, these tips can help your group plan an event employees enjoy.
Avoid Costume Chaos
No court has ever ruled that a "Halloween defense" applies to a business facing a misconduct charge, according to Philippe Weiss, president of consultancy Seyfarth at Work. It's necessary to provide guidelines for what costumes and conduct are and aren't appropriate.
"In today's fraught political environment, even masks depicting our national leaders—of either party—are inadvisable costume choices, especially if one wishes to remain on good terms with co-workers," he said. "Employees should also refrain from sharing pics [over e-mail] of themselves in a questionable get-up. One quickly loses control over who sees them—ultimately leading to HR issues."
Keep it simple when reminding staff about costumes. Owens said there is a tendency to over-complicate the message. A lengthy manifesto outlining what costumes are appropriate and which ones are not will likely go unread.
"Employees don't have the attention span to read a lengthy e-mail like that," she said. "The better approach in my opinion is to let your employees know that Halloween costumes are fine, so long as they don't violate the spirit or letter of your company dress code."
Tie It to the Times
At Spartan Mechanical in Indiana, CEO Amy Wampler plans to resume the company's long-standing dress-up tradition. The company set a COVID-19-related theme. Staff members choosing to dress up must incorporate a mask into the costume. Remote employees have received special Zoom invitations to join in from home and are also encouraged to dress up.
"Whether it is a doctor or 'V for Vendetta' character or even Batman," Wampler said, "I think it really adds to the charm and excitement as workers will try to find characters who don masks."
In the age of Zoom, it's easy to involve remote workers in in-office events. Last year, Owens encouraged remote employees to adopt spooky Halloween-themed backgrounds for Zoom calls, and that is continuing into this year.
"If they want to decorate their home office with Halloween stuff, great. But more practically, we also encourage them to use digital Halloween backgrounds for calls rather than the typical blurred background," she said.
Make It Interactive
Clients tell Weiss that events involving collaboration and teamwork provide the most engagement. Eliciting employees' ideas for Halloween-themed advertising, packaging or window displays, or planning an outdoor scavenger hunt with clues related to the company's history or products and services, are often a hit.
"It is prudent to avoid activities that include religious elements and anything overly terrifying," Weiss said. "Stay away from contests that involve physical contact, such as mummifying co-workers in toilet paper, as doing so can create potential COVID-19 as well as definite inappropriate-conduct risks."
Give It a Halloween Twist
Dressing up is the first idea that comes to mind for Halloween celebrations, but it's not the only way to celebrate the day. This year, Online Optimism, a digital marketing agency with offices in New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., is hosting weekly remote watch parties of Halloween episodes of iconic TV shows. The company also mailed acrylic paint markers to staff and encouraged them to paint a pumpkin and share their creations in Slack.
"We chose TV shows instead of movies because they're shorter and more digestible," said Sara Bandurian, operations coordinator. "People can pop in to the watch party around lunch, and it's a fun time without distracting too much from work. We are also leaving space in the Friday companywide video call on Oct. 29 so they can show off costumes."
Last year when business operations went fully remote, TruePeopleSearch replaced its traditional costume dress-up with a "Crazy Hat" party. Employees came up with unique hat ideas showcased in a virtual event. This year the company is hosting a "Hocus Pocus"-themed event in which the remote employees can connect over Zoom or Skype.
"These parties and get-togethers of employees are extremely beneficial for the company and help shape the organizational culture," said Marilyn Gaskell, the company's founder and hiring manager.
Katie Navarra is a freelance writer in New York state.