Q: I am the assistant to the executive director of a nonprofit human services agency. The culture of the agency includes having the employees and the volunteers wear costumes to work on Halloween. Is it ok if I just wear a black pantsuit and bring a witch’s hat to work and leave it on my desk?
When I joined the agency four years ago, I wore a black pantsuit on Halloween and purchased a witch’s hat, and kept the latter item visible next to my desk. Part of my work involves interacting with the public, and my personal standards include the belief that it is not correct to for staff to wear Halloween costumes in the workplace, especially when interacting with members of the public. I have followed this practice since that initial year, without engendering any negative comments from my manager or other staff members.
This year my manager told us that staff members who wear costumes would get to go home early on Halloween, while anyone not wearing a costume would have to stay until the normal 5:00 closing time.
I plan on following my usual practice of wearing a black pantsuit and bringing the witch’s hat to work. Almost all of the rest of the staff, including the manager, show up each Halloween in new and specially purchased costumes.
Am I under any obligation to do the same?
A: I wouldn’t think so, not in any reasonable office. I mean, some might think that you’re being a bit of a party pooper, but it’s not something that should have any real ramifications for you at work. In fact, it seems clear that it’s not a requirement, based on your manager’s wording that people not wearing costumes will just work until their normal ending time.
That said, for what it’s worth, I think you’re probably being a bit too much of a stickler when you say that people shouldn’t wear Halloween costumes to work, especially if they’re interacting with the public. There are certainly some jobs where that’s true — for example, if you’re a doctor, you shouldn’t be giving patients bad news about their health while dressed as a giant banana or something — but for most jobs, it’s not inherently unprofessional to wear a costume, and if the culture of a particular office is one where people do that, that’s a perfectly reasonable way for that office to run.
None of that obligates you to dress up if you’d rather not, and anyone who gives you crap about that is being a bit of a jerk, since different people have different preferences around this stuff. But at the same time, just as they shouldn’t be judgy about your personal preferences on this, I’d urge you not to judge the people who enjoy dressing up as incorrect either.
Q: My coworker keeps burping loudly and it’s disgusting
My department is pretty quiet. Most of the floor is waist-high cubes, so we’re all fairly considerate of each other: earbuds for music, taking personal calls out to the stairwell, etc.
There’s a line of small offices – with doors – down one side of the room. Our new IT help-desk guy sits in one of these offices and is friendly, seems to know what he’s doing, and gets things done. We know he has a hearing impairment and so we make allowances for his loud phone voice.
The problem? He belches. Daily. Horrid, long, loud, disgusting belches. Even with his office door closed, some days it’s downright nauseating.
I don’t know how to approach him about it. His supervisor is in a different building altogether. Our HR “department” is one over-worked person who mostly deals with hiring and benefits. I don’t want to be a jerk about it, but it’s actually getting disruptive and something’s got to change. Any ideas?
A: It’s possible that it’s a medical problem, in which case there likely isn’t anything that he can do about it. But it might not be medical at all and you don’t need to assume that it is without first talking to him. I’d say it this way: “Hey, I don’t know if you realize that when you burp, we can hear it out here. It’s pretty distracting! Anything you can do to control it or at least keep it quieter?”