3 Halloween Lessons for HR

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We’re rather fond of costumes here at TribeHR. And we typically don’t wait for Halloween to show up as, for example, a unicorn or a circus performer. Having said that, we’re totally onside with dedicating a specific day to appear as our favorite anthropomorphized cuddly animal, superhero, pirate or whatever else floats our boats. Especially if there’s candy involved—and a little competition!

Unicorn by Bart Everson, Wikimedia Commons

This year, our workplace Halloween party will include contests for both costumes and pumpkin carving. Carving contest-worthy jack-o-lanterns is not easy, so employees will work in pairs to outdo each other in the pumpkin carving competition. Offering two contests also allows anyone who’s uncomfortable with disguise to focus on the squash.

We’re excited about the extraordinary (as yet undisclosed) prizes, which will be awarded in the following categories for each contest:

  • best overall;
  • most creative; and
  • best technical execution (required for the engineers among us!).

What HR can Learn from Halloween

Most conversations about Halloween and the workplace revolve around the appropriateness of celebrating the day at work and concerns about costumes (or people) getting out of control. I’m more interested in what we might learn from the popularity of Halloween in the workplace and employees’ eagerness to participate. So far, three lessons have emerged from one free-wheeling conversation about this year’s Halloween bash.

  1. Rewards come in all shapes and sizes: It’s hard to know what makes people love the work they do and the company they work for. You can never replace the fundamentals of fair compensation and meaningful work with costume parties and candy, but you can certainly use them to sweeten the deal. When determining rewards, remember that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work[1]. It just makes sense to incorporate workplace social activities into your overall rewards strategy and to foster an environment of fun and camaraderie.
  2. Employees will optimize: If Halloween trick-or-treating was part of your childhood experience, you know that half the fun was mapping the route that would get you the most (and the best) candy. There were always a few houses in the neighborhood that everyone went to first (and again!). These neighbors were exceptionally generous, offering the best treats and sometimes spooking their guests with amazing special effects. Enterprising trick-or-treaters flock to these houses every year and these select few homeowners always enjoy the best possible Halloween parade. As an employer, your objective is to attract exceptional, enterprising talent. Whatever reward program you choose to put in place, make it outstanding and know that employees will study it and figure out how to make the most of it—that’s how you know it’s working!
  3. It’s not always about the payoff: As much as everyone appreciates a payoff, sometimes the intention or the journey matters more. To paraphrase something American entrepreneur, Jim Rohn once said: The goal, however lofty, is not the important part. What’s important is what you have to learn along the way and the person you become in the process of achieving the goal. Between creating a costume, planning the route, walking for miles, and sometimes being required to tell a scary story before receiving the promised reward, Halloween traditionally required a lot of children. And while treats were the obvious payoff, many children derived more enjoyment from the planning, creativity, social interaction and play-acting of the day. Employees are also differently motivated. Knowing what matters to your people is more important than the specific perks you provide. Missing the mark, on the other hand, is like offering only Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on Halloween and sending the children with nut allergies away disappointed and empty-handed.

For us, Halloween is an opportunity to build social bonds at work, get a little silly, indulge in some friendly competition and sweeten up the work day. We haven’t provided any specific Halloween “rules of engagement” or costume guidelines, because we trust each other to participate in the spirit of appropriate workplace fun. If that goes sideways, we’ll learn from the experience, make the necessary changes for next year and move on. Happy Halloween!


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