This Halloween, Americans are expected to spend a near-record amount of $8.8 billion
on costumes and other decorations. While the holiday traditionally
attracts a core of committed fans, many are also peer-pressured to jump
into the festivity’s spending.
professor of applied economics at Cornell University’s SC Johnson
College of Business, is an expert on consumption and studies the
psychological, social and cultural aspects of economic behavior. Heffetz
says that when it comes to celebrations, Halloween has become the
holiday to show off one’s status.
a consumer-economics point-of-view, Halloween is unique in at least two
ways relative to other holidays. First, in addition to home
decorations, which can be reused from year to year (say, like Christmas
decorations), Halloween is much more about the costumes. Reusing
decorations is relatively easy, but reusing costumes is more difficult,
because our children grow fast, and because costumes are often less
durable, and kids destroy them quickly.
“Second, wearables are
among the most socially visible items a family could spend on. This
unsurprising observation is confirmed and quantified in my research on
expenditure visibility. This could make costumes a child’s membership
card into some social circles, and the right costume can be an
opportunity to display one’s status within a group.
“Even if we
gave up on the costumes and stuck to decorations, while a family’s
Christmas tree and many of the related decorations are only visible to
those guests who are invited to visit inside the home, Halloween
decorations are visible to anyone driving down the street.
short, in both decorations and costumes, Halloween is the
expenditure-visibility holiday! For some parents this could be a
not-to-be-missed opportunity for public display. Other parents may feel
that they are reluctantly dragged into this race, or they risk
disappointing their children.”
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Halloween is a dicey time of year for managers and employees alike. A
well-planned celebration can boost morale, energize the staff, and help
to build connections between co-workers. But an inappropriate costume,
or a party that goes off the rails, can damage reputations and even lead
to terminations and legal problems.
should only wear a Halloween costume if company leadership has clearly
communicated an invitation to do so. If you have recently joined the
company and you are not yet familiar with its culture and policies, ask
multiple sources for advice (including your boss). Don’t rely on just
one co-worker for guidance. An office jokester may try to trick you into
dressing up when no one else does.
If you do wear a costume,
bring a change of clothes to work if you expect to have any meetings or
videoconferences with external stakeholders. If you know the client
personally and you have established an informal relationship, the
costume could be appropriate and funny. But meeting a new client dressed
as the Charlie Chaplin might not set the most professional tone.
Which costumes are too risqué for the office?
employees see dressing up as an opportunity to “bring their whole
selves to work”—a chance to express an aspect of their identity
typically left at home. But this can be tricky.
and HR managers should communicate their policy on costumes and props
(including fake guns and knives). Generally speaking, avoid anything
that may be interpreted as too revealing, provocative,
politically-charged, or inappropriate for a professional setting. Not
sure? Check with HR.
Beyond what you wear to the office, it’s also
important to think about what you post on social media. We often forget
how much our professional contacts can see about us online. Posting a
picture of yourself wearing a risqué costume can blur personal and
What are the consequences for going overboard?
an inappropriate costume can damage your professional image. In extreme
cases, it could even pose legal and safety risks.
violence is a very real issue today. If your costume includes a weapon
and you joke about hurting people, your co-workers may disagree with the
humor and find it threatening. They could take legal action against the
organization for allowing a hostile work environment.
provocative or revealing costume raises concerns about sexual
harassment, especially in the heightened awareness of the #MeToo era.
You could be disciplined if your outfit violates company guidelines.
Co-workers who make sexually-explicit remarks, or engage in other
harassing behaviors toward you, could face serious consequences
Importantly, companies must be careful not
to victim-blame. Discipline should not be framed as though the employee
wearing the revealing costume “invited” the comments or was at fault for
being on the receiving end.
The bottom line? HR must enforce
costume guidelines consistently across the workforce and the discipline
should always fit the infraction.
Is there an upside for employers?
Absolutely. Despite these risks, there is a good business case for throwing Halloween celebrations and welcoming costumes.
implemented strategically, they can strengthen the company’s culture,
reinforce its emphasis on fun, improve employee relationships, and even
boost employee well-being and productivity. Celebrations give employees a
chance to recharge, which also spills over into improved life and
family satisfaction. In the long run, these types of celebrations, and a
“fun” organizational culture, can help attract new employees, improve
employee commitment, and reduce turnover rates.
However, it is important to align these celebrations with the organizational culture. A fun work environment is defined by consistent access
to workplace activities, games, and group outings. If a Halloween
celebration is an isolated event, it might be perceived as a superficial
attempt at engaging employees.