September 27, 2023

“I run a small insurance agency. Last fall some of my staff asked to dress up at Halloween in costumes, but I said no. However, I noticed some tellers at our community bank dressed up. And now my employees have asked again whether they can wear costumes this year on October 31st. Should I allow employees to dress up for Halloween?”

–  Sue from St. Paul, Minnesota

Sue, that is an excellent question, one that we have heard more often in the past three years.

There is no right or wrong answer to this one. Whether you should allow employees to dress up for Halloween varies from business to business.

Before you say either yes or no, review these pointers to help you work through the decision.

allow employees to dress up for halloween pumpkins

Positives of Employees Dressing Up for Halloween 

No question about it: costumes are no longer just for kids.

Americans will spend over $3 billion on costumes at Halloween. And that number has grown over the past decade per the NRF. In 2018, nearly half of the adults celebrating Halloween were planning to dress up.

That’s why employees increasingly want to dress up for Halloween at work. Here are 3 positives from dressing up in the workplace:

Build Morale

allow employees to dress up for halloween - build morale

Most of us are looking for something to relieve boredom in our workday. Allowing employees to dress up for Halloween can boost morale.

Everyone seems a little happier. Smiles seem a little brighter. Co-workers get along a little better. Higher morale is contagious!

Increase Customer Satisfaction

Allowing employees to dress up for Halloween can improve customer relations and boost sales:

Costumes in the workplace humanize your business. They help your staff connect better with consumers. Shoppers will remember your brand with a smile.

Grow Sales

A costume can be an icebreaker to get a sales conversation started in retail.

In a creative business such as a marketing agency or public relations firm, or perhaps a bakery or other food business, it could be a competitive differentiator. Fun creativity is highly valued in such businesses. Combine employees in costumes along with other Halloween marketing ideas for a win. For instance, creative pumpkin carving contests are always a good creative outlet.

allow employees to dress up for halloween - pumpkin carving

Here are some ideas to inspire you for your workplace pumpkin carving endeavors:

Guidelines for Employees in Costumes

While there are positives, don’t let it be a free for all.

Set employee guidelines for costumes. Communicate in advance what is acceptable and what is not in your office at Halloween. Give examples.

In a small setting, you can also ask employees to clear their costume of choice in advance with you or their direct supervisor.

allow employees to dress up for halloween - employee guidelines

Here are 5 guidelines for employee costumes at Halloween.

Keep Safety Top of Mind

allow employees to dress up for halloween - safety first/ worker using factory equipment

Do not allow bulky costumes near machinery or in potentially dangerous settings such as a factory. It only takes a small catch on a moving part for an accident to occur. You can see from above how easy it would be to catch something like a pirate’s poofy sleeve in a moving part!

Avoid Costumes In Poor Taste

Ask employees to avoid any costume that could be perceived as culturally, sexually or racially insensitive (such as dressing up as an American Indian). Remember the uproar over Prince Harry being photographed in a tasteless costume some years back?

But even popular costumes that seem harmless fun could be taken the wrong way. Picture in your mind certain costumes and how they might come across in your business.

allow employees to dress up for halloween - 3 women dressed as little girl zombies

For example, according to the National Retail Federation, these were the most common costumes for adults last year:

  • 7.2 million adults planned to dress like a witch,
  • 2.5 million suited up as a vampire,
  • 2.1 million opted to go as a zombie,
  • 1.9 million wanted to dress as a pirate, and
  • 1.3 million chose their favorite Avengers costume such as Iron Man or Black Panther.

As fun as these costumes sound, it could be in poor taste for the receptionist in an urgent care clinic to dress up like a zombie. Or a blood bank worker to dress up like a vampire.

Or a restaurant server to dress up like a rat or cockroach.

Limit Masks and Halloween Makeup

Should I Allow Employees to Dress Up for Halloween?

Full face masks are never a good idea in the workplace. Customers and coworkers want to see facial expressions. Masks also impede communication. Besides, they seem creepy.

And what about dramatic Halloween makeup? Some makeup can cover most or all of the face, as the image above shows.

But one person’s visual masterpiece is another person’s annoying distraction when trying to conduct business.

In businesses such as a bar or nightclubs, dramatic faces could be a real hit. In office and professional settings, ask employees to tone it down.

Light face painting (e.g., whiskers for cats or nose coloring to suggest a scarecrow) may be an acceptable alternative. Some employers choose not to allow any face coverings at all — just costumes.

allow employees to dress up for halloween - cat lady costume

Minimize Dressing Up by Certain Personnel

In some occupations, costumes seem … well … wrong. Would you want police officers or surgeons to get dressed up for Halloween?

Think about the professionalism your customers and clients expect.

One thing you can do is limit costumes to certain personnel.

For example, in a medical, legal or financial business, dressing up may be okay for personnel such as receptionists or billing clerks. But costumes might undermine client trust if donned by financial planners or attorneys. Nurses wearing bulky costumes or ones that shed could be a health concern.

Be Sensitive to Religious Objections

allow employees to dress up for halloween - with costume

Back in 2006, Gallup did a survey of Americans and found about 11% of people have religious objections to Halloween. People who object on religious grounds do so because of Halloween’s connection to the devil and pagan rituals. They might find costumes like the one pictured above offensive.

The survey is a bit old, but the point is still valid. A small percentage of your employees (and customers) may object to Halloween. Two thoughts around this:

  • You might prefer to keep costumes and celebrations focused on fun themes like scarecrows, pumpkins and fanciful characters like princesses and robots. Stay away from themes associated with the occult or the devil.
  • Make sure employees do not feel under peer pressure to dress up. Openly communicate that it’s optional and an individual choice.

Here’s a table of the guidelines that managers can reference when that spooky holiday rolls around:

Guideline Description
Keep Safety Top of Mind Avoid bulky or dangerous costumes near machinery or potentially hazardous settings. Safety should always be the primary concern, and it’s essential to ensure that costumes do not pose a risk to employees.
Avoid Costumes In Poor Taste Ensure costumes are respectful and not perceived as culturally, sexually, or racially insensitive. Even seemingly harmless or popular costumes should be chosen with care, considering how they might come across in the specific business context.
Limit Masks and Makeup Full face masks and heavy Halloween makeup should generally be avoided, as they can impede communication and seem unprofessional. Light face painting might be an acceptable alternative, but the appropriateness may vary depending on the business setting.
Minimize Dressing Up by Certain Personnel In some professional roles, costumes might seem inappropriate. Limiting costumes to certain personnel like receptionists or billing clerks can help maintain professionalism, while ensuring that costumes don’t undermine trust or pose health concerns in certain professions.
Be Sensitive to Religious Objections Recognize that some employees might have religious objections to Halloween or specific themes. Keep celebrations focused on fun and non-controversial themes, and make sure employees know that dressing up is optional and an individual choice, free from peer pressure.

Hold an Event Instead

allow employees to dress up for halloween - couple at a halloween party dressed up

Finally, if you want to do something for employee morale and to celebrate with customers but don’t want to allow employees to dress up for Halloween, hold an event instead.

Arrange a customer open house with Halloween treats. Bring in a face painter for the kids. Hold a pet parade. Be more relaxed this day and make it an experience to remember. See more Halloween events.

All answers to reader questions come from the Small Business Trends Editorial Board, with more than 50 years of combined business experience. If you would like to submit a question, please submit it here.


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