Q. In 2009, our office celebrated Halloween. We lived to regret it.
We held a pumpkin-carving contest. Because it was taking forever to scoop out the pumpkin guts, one of our managers suggested a race, which prompted one competitive young lady to cut her hand. Also, this happened just after we had a layoff, so the payroll clerk came dressed in a pink slip, went running round giving out slippery pink paper and everything got weird.
Despite this, we'd like to try again; our employees miss it. How do we bullet-proof this event or should we just skip Halloween?
A. Don't be spooked; you can have a ghoulish good time.
A Halloween celebration can give a stressed workplace a bit of fun. Because common sense isn't common, establishing a few guidelines in advance should help.
Set the mood by letting your employees know you'll bring in treats for everyone. Invite them to wear costumes if they want. Given that the National Retail Federation reports Americans spend $1.4 billion annually on adult Halloween costumes, enough employees will have costumes to spice up your workplace.
Remind employees that the dress code and anti-discrimination policies remain in effect. Ask them to avoid the naughty bar wench costume, costumes that resemble lingerie and one of this year's most popular costumes, the trash-talking teddy bear. Given the polarized political climate, ask that they not portray political figures in a negative way.
If you run a medical or health care facility, ask that no employee dresses as a ghost, devil or skeleton out of respect for patients. Ask employees to avoid nun, Pope and Jesus costumes which might offend those who feel these costumes mock what is sacred. Similarly, given that national origin is a protected category, ask employees to avoid the illegal alien costume that comes with a fake oversized green card. Ask that no employee dons terrorist costumes or pullover ski masks and toy guns -- particularly if your office is adjacent to other offices where an unsuspecting employee might see these costumes and think there's a genuine problem, rousting the police for no reason.
Remind employees that costumes and decorations can't violate fire or safety codes. Ask that they leave the candles at home and avoid flowing costumes near machinery or kitchen areas.
Remind your managers they're managers even on fun days and give them the "when in doubt, don't" speech concerning off-hand comments. For example, "I see you've figured out how to succeed in this company" can have lasting consequences if voiced by a male manager to a female employee dressed in a male costume.
You may have employees who object to Halloween celebrations. Some employees philosophically object to the $5 billion Americans spend on Halloween-related purchases when there's so much poverty in the world. Others object for religious reasons, given Halloween's origins, in which Celts dressed as ghouls to frighten away the spirits of those who died in the preceding year and returned hoping to take possession of living bodies.
Finally, if you have one or two workers who show poor judgment, deal with them individually, rather than taking the fun out of the party for everyone. Bring back Halloween.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co., Inc. Send your questions to her at www.thegrowthcompany.com.