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These 10 Office Halloween Party Mistakes Really Give HR a Scare

Topics: Career Advice
office halloween party
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Without a doubt, Halloween is one of the best holidays of the year. It gives us the chance to be kids again, dressing up like heroes or villains and eating far too much candy. If you’re lucky, you might even get to do all of that during the workday, courtesy of your employer.

But while the office Halloween party can provide a welcome break from routine, it’s also potentially fraught. The usual rules of work go right out the window when your boss is dressed up in Spiderman pajamas and your interns are disguised as Fortnite characters.

To keep things festive, it helps to be aware of the pitfalls. Avoid these mistakes and enjoy your Halloween:

1. Demanding That Everyone Participate

Liz Lemon party

Mandatory fun comes with perils — especially when religion enters the mix. For many of us, Halloween is just a time to eat candy and dress up. But some of your coworkers might have different associations with the day, and it’s important to make sure that they don’t feel left out or pressured to go along with a celebration that makes them uncomfortable.

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Per Rebecca R. Hastings at the Society for Human Resource Management:

Halloween is largely a secular holiday, but it does have religious roots and pagan symbols, said Jonathan Segal, a partner with Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia. As such, some people might not wish to participate in company-sponsored Halloween events.

Hastings suggests that organizations make it clear that participation isn’t required and that the celebration is intended as a secular one. Good things to keep in mind, if you’re on the party-planning committee.

2. Engaging in Cultural Appropriation

If you’ve ever attended an office Halloween party, chances are that you’ve seen some costume choices that gave you pause. Many of these are based on cultural stereotypes. (For example, your white coworker’s choice to wear an “Indian” headdress, afro wig or sombrero.)

A few years ago, students at Ohio University started the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign to help their fellow students avoid engaging in cultural appropriation during Halloween. The ad campaign featured pictures of students of diverse backgrounds holding photos of students dressed as offensive caricatures of their culture.

“In many cases, students aren’t doing it maliciously, but they might not realize the consequences of their actions on others,” said the dean of students, Ryan Lombardi, in an interview with CNN.

Take a minute to think about any cultural associations while you’re choosing your costume, so you don’t wind up offending your colleagues.

3. Wearing Something Super Revealing to a Company-Sponsored Event

Even if your office doesn’t have a dress code, it’s a good idea to keep your work attire relatively conservative — even at Halloween. Rule of thumb: if your outfit would be appropriate at a club or at the beach, it’s probably not safe for work.

Remember that most rules of etiquette are intended to make sure that people are comfortable, especially in places where they’re required to be. That means keeping the risqué outfits for non-work events.

Plus, a too-revealing costume might lead to legal problems for you and your employer.

“Sexual harassment laws do not take a break for the holidays,” writes Chas Rampenthal, General Counsel at LegalZoom, in a column for Inc.

4. Using the Holiday as Your Soapbox


Politics and work don’t mix. Again, anything that could be considered offensive is a bad idea in an office environment, and few things get people riled up more than politics.

“Keep your costume politically neutral,” advises Suzanne Lucas at CBS News. “Unless you’re a campaign worker, now is not your time to display your love of or hatred for any particular candidate.”

And even if you are a campaign worker, consider skipping politically themed costumes. Mocking another candidate might seem like a fun idea, but you never know how your efforts will be received. Maybe your boss has made a pledge to take the high road — or maybe your clever idea won’t seem as funny once you’ve made it a reality.

5. Wearing Something That Makes It Hard to Participate (or Get Your Work Done)

One of my go-to costumes for office Halloween parties is bumblebee. Why? Because it’s relatively easy to pull off — if you have a yellow sweatshirt and some electrical tape, you don’t even need to shop — plus, it’s comfortable. You can do everything in that costume — work, play, judge the company’s costume contest, take a nap under your desk, whatever you want.

On the other hand, I’ve had multiple friends and coworkers go as a vampire for office Halloween. They only do it once, because after you’ve tried to scarf down Halloween treats while holding a set of false, pointy teeth in your hand, you never sign up for that again.

6. Going for the Oscar for Special Effects


Sure, decorating your cubicle for Halloween is a nice break from the daily grind. Plus, it’s a way to build team spirit and connect with your coworkers in a way that you can’t during a regular workday. But there is such a thing as too much holiday spirit.

Take, for example, this story sent in to Alison Green of Ask a Manager:

I’ve worked six years for a man who goes way over the top with Halloween. Our office becomes a haunted dungeon with spooky lighting, a disturbing soundtrack, gothic pictures and dust covers, and toys that use sensors to jump out at people and make loud noises. For reasons I don’t understand, my boss loves this.

I hate it. I have PTSD from a bad childhood and the whole thing increases my anxiety. Especially the soundtrack can make me spin out. If I didn’t have an office with a door, I wouldn’t be able to work here.

Remember that the goal is make people feel like they’re part of a team. Go too spooky with the decorations, and you might accidentally isolate someone who’s not a fan of gore or loud noises. (And keep in mind that people have physical ailments that make some Halloween decorations a no-no. For example, your coworker with epilepsy may not be able to tolerate flashing lights.)

7. Forgetting About Food Allergies

“Before adding peanut butter to your favorite brownie recipe, remember to be courteous to coworkers with food allergies,” advises Diane Gottsman at Inc. “You want everyone to be able to safely enjoy the snacks. When in doubt, ask.”

Also, keep in mind that some people with food allergies react to allergens in their environment as well as in their food. For example, some people with peanut allergies will react to peanut residue on doorknobs or furnishings. If you know that one of your colleagues has allergies, be considerate. Either skip those foods or keep them contained to a limited area. (Your coworker will likely be able to advise you about precautions — and will be grateful for your consideration.)

8. Overindulging in Adult Beverages

The winter holiday party is better known for drinking-related mishaps, but any corporate function that serves alcohol has the potential to get out of hand. Don’t risk your reputation or your career by over-serving yourself.

Plus, if you drink too much, you’ll miss out on the career-boosting opportunities that these parties can provide. For example, company get-togethers like the office Halloween party are a chance to get to know people you don’t work with on a day-to-day basis.

At The Muse, Stacey Lastoe explains:

Your co-workers know you give a mean presentation. Your group speaking skills are enviable around the office, and your GIFs on company-wide emails are the best. Maybe a handful even know how you like your coffee or that you keep a little jar of sea salt on your desk.

But most of what they see of you is work-related. The company holiday party is your chance to show off your best you—and for you to get to know their best them.

9. Forgetting That You’re at Work to Work

Again, there are lots of good things about office Halloween parties besides the fact that they give you an excuse to eat candy and take a break from work. When things go as planned, they’re a chance to connect with your team, network with other departments and blow off some steam.

But while you’re enjoying the festivities, it’s important to remember why you’re at the office in the first place: to do your job. Don’t get so distracted by the party that you forget your responsibilities. You don’t want your boss’s boss to come looking for you for help with a project, only to be told that you’re too busy making slime-themed Jello shots and mummifying your cube with streamers to participate.

10. Being a Party Pooper

party pooper

On the other hand, unless you’ve got a good reason not to do so, it’s important to participate in team-building functions like the office Halloween party.

You’re at work to work, yes, but collaboration means connection. If you become known as the office party pooper, you may find yourself distanced from the rest of your team. That’s a bummer on a social level, but it can also be a real career killer. When everything else is equal, management is more likely to promote people who get along well with others. If your company’s culture places a heavy emphasis on socializing, you won’t get ahead by staying at your desk while everyone else is whooping it up.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your advice for a spooky — but safe-for-work — office Halloween party? We want to hear from you. Share your tips in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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