Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Halloween Costume vs. The Corporate Costume

IMG_2421 - Cruella de Vil
Originally uploaded by Anime Nut

I watched the Halloween episode of The Office last night. Yes, I tore myself away from The World Series to get my weekly fix of the crazy, wacky shenanigans of the gang at The Office.

By the way, GO PHILLIES! But I digress...

When I moved to California, I worked in a major corporate travel office where business professional attire was a daily must.

As Halloween approached, and everyone became increasingly excited, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Halloween came and I realized that people really looked forward to sharing their real selves with each other...all under the guise of an office event.

Once I told my kids about the fact that people at my office dressed up, they were ecstatic that Mom should do it too. I had capitulated and gone in as Robin Hood. At 5'10" it was the only costume I thought comfortable enough for my 60 minute commute. In fact, I wore pants over my tights and finished my get-up in the bathroom at work, not daring to be seen on the road or in the business park in a Halloween costume.

I was truly amazed at the steps some of my colleagues had taken to get the perfect fit and look. Still relatively new to California, I did not realize that many of my colleagues were aspiring actors and actresses. Many had already been in paid roles or were always auditioning or waiting for the big break.

One shift manager, always the comic, came in a complete, couture bridal attire, with two "bridesmaids" to accompany him and be at his beck and call for the entire shift. One company owner, usually stoic and professional, shaved his beard and goatee and came to work, fully made up as his very pregnant wife - which was hysterical. Turns out he had grown the beard and goatee for months to add impact when he came in for his big reveal.

One supervisor, known for her abrasive manner, appropriately came in as Cruella deVil and was lauded for doing so.

What struck me about that day, as I sat in my safe, Robin Hood get-up, was the energy that went through the office. It seemed easy for people to stay in character and be what they wanted to be for the whole day. Conversations were no holds barred as shifts changed and staff came and went. People came in early and stayed beyond their schedules to hang out, eat and just see each other.

We worked in a call center, and even though our callers might not have perceived the difference, we hope, the folks in the office certainly had a blast being these "characters" that revealed much about ourselves.

When the costumes went away the next day and we went back to "normal" corporate attire, there was a palpable feeling of routine and weariness. Some of that was no doubt because many of my co-workers were hungover from going to the famed Halloween parade at Santa Monica pier on Halloween night.

Aside from that though, I think people were somewhat unhappy going back to the corporate masks many of us wear to work every day.

With the Halloween costume, we can call people as we see them...crazy, stupid, funny, back stabber, silly, angry, evil or hellish.

Not so, the other 364 days of the year. Do that and you could end up in HR or court!


Anita said...

Too bad managers didn't also notice this difference and seek to find other ways to add something special to the workday to re-energize and re-enthuse workers. Simple things like having pizza parties, washing an employee's windshield, having a "worst shoes" contest are less elaborate than Halloween costumes but the payoff could be the same: employees giving more energy to co-workers and customers, which can help boost a company's bottom line.
What a fun post!

Anita Santiago said...

Very interesting. In government, celebrating holidays is always approached carefully. I need work at an agency that encouraged people to dress up. There was a strict code (no gore, no masks, etc). The atmosphere was festive. Just like your situation, people were comfortable in their roles. This post shows how something small, like allowing employees to 'be themselves' for a day can pay off in a big way. The downside is that all the energy was lost afterwards. Would be great if the employer could have kept the good vibe going.

Marcia said...


So so true. Some HR Managers forget that constant showers are sometimes better than a flood.

I think in tough economic times when stress levels are high all around, high functioning organizations find ways to keep the energy up.

"Worst shoes" idea sounds like fun.

Marcia Robinson said...

Anita S,

Wow - my two favorite Anita's stopping by today.

I like the concept of a "Be Yourself" day. Lets people learn about the person inside the suit.

If HR folks could do that without it turning into Casual-Friday-Gone-too-Wrong, it would be great!

e said...

many of us wear masks all year. fun stuff


Bobby said...

When you're in costume it makes it easier to be a little less serious and lighthearted. This is great for office morale and goes a long way to promote conversation and employee interaction. Casual Fridays usually operate on the same premise. It raises the spirits of the workers and makes the office an easier place to spend an eight hours day.

Marianna said...

Excellent post, Marcia!

Part of our stress is a result of a misalignment of who we are and what we do.

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