Halloween Costume Contest: Getting Your Co-Workers to Participate

The crisp autumn leaves and the scent of pumpkin spice in the air can only mean one thing: the annual office Halloween costume contest. The chance to ditch the normal business attire and don some whimsical, spooky, or downright outrageous costumes is appealing to many. However, if you are the HR director, manager, or head of the party planning committee you know that getting grown adults to participate in an office costume contest.

Some are shy, some are embarrassed, while others are just plain Debbie Downers. Do not fear, getting your co-workers to participate in a costume contest doesn’t have to give you as much anxiety as watching The Exorcist. We are going to unleash the best strategies that will not only make your costume contest a spooky success but all but guarantee that your co-workers will be jumping at that chance to participate.

The Science Behind Getting People to Participate

If you want to gin up as many entries into your office costume contest, you will need to understand a bit about the psychological aspects of human behavior. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to bore you with a lecture. Here are some basic human traits to consider when trying to motivate people to get into the spirit:

  • People have a fundamental need to belong
  • Rewards and recognition are powerful motivators
  • FOMO (fear of missing out) is real

So how does this help me? Keeping these things in mind as you plan, organize, and advertise your event will help you hit the right buttons with your staff and get the best turnout. The best way to get people to act is to appeal to them with the right message. If they feel that they are missing out by not participating and that they are getting some sort of benefit that they value, then they are much more likely to participate.

Ideas to Promote Costume Contest Participation

Good Prizes 

You can’t expect all people to have the same level of enthusiasm. Some people will see things as more transactional. Basically, they will need to get something that they deem valuable in return. Everyone has different tastes, it is up to you to find out what type of prize or reward will appeal the most to your group. Here are some great ideas to get you started:

  • Gift cards
  • Extra vacation days
  • Cash
  • Better parking space
  • Leave early for a day
  • A big trophy
  • Photo display of the winners
  • Boss for a day (okay this might not work out too well but you get the idea!)

Intriguing Categories

Instead of a generic Halloween costume contest, organize your event with some specifics. Create categories such as “Celebrities”, “horror”, “Funniest”, “best group or duo”, etc. This will offer more chances for people to win. It can also spark some ideas. One of the major things that tends to keep people on the sidelines of a costume contest is a lack of a good costume idea. 

Perks for People in Costumes

You can take advantage of the natural FOMO people have by offering special perks to anyone who shows up in costume. Costume wearers can get better parking, free snacks, an extra break, happy hour, or anything you deem feasible and enticing.

This will create a definite cost for anyone who doesn’t wear a costume. Humans are loss-adverse and motivated by the thought that they may be losing out on an opportunity. 

Employees Vote on the Winners

Let the people decide! If everyone in the office is given the opportunity to vote on who they think should win each costume category, then they will have a sense of ownership. This responsibility can lead them to feel more included and ultimately lead them to want to don a costume themselves. 

You can also add another perk, giving the votes of individuals wearing costumes two votes or making their vote count double.

Boss/Manager Participation

The need to belong is a major motivator for many individuals. This is where social norms come into play. If something is deemed to be accepted or the majority opinion, people tend to get on board with that idea or behavior. You can harness the power of this by making people see participating in the costume contest as something the majority of people will do. 

This is easier said than done. If you want to get the majority involved, you need to get the ball rolling. A surefire way to ignite participation is to get your managers and bosses to commit to wearing a costume ahead of time. Their participation should be advertised to everyone.

Anyone on the fence about wearing a costume will see this as confirmation they will not be alone, plus they know the leadership is on board. This is a powerful strategy that should not be overlooked.

Duos or Team Costumes

“I will if you will”. While it might be a bit childish, everyone gets bolder when someone else joins them in an activity. If you promote a “best duo costume” or “best team” you are encouraging individuals to team up. This means that if people need that extra push to dress up, knowing that they won’t be alone is reassuring.  

Promote Interdepartment Rivalry

It’s no secret that there can exist some friendly competition and rivalry between departments within any organization. Accounting vs. HR, Sales vs. everyone else, you know how it goes. 

Harness the natural desire to outperform the other staff by promoting bragging rights, and awards for the department with the best group costume. This not only lets you benefit from the competitive nature of your co-workers but also from the “strength in numbers” idea we just discussed!

Bring Your Pet

People love pets. If you allow pets to be included in the Halloween costume contests, some people will jump at the chance to participate. Your team won’t want to miss the opportunity to show off their dog in a pet costume showdown. 

Costume Compliments

Positive reinforcement can be powerful. Don’t underestimate the effect that kind words and encouragement can have. If you have people on the fence, be positive and supportive. Promote an attitude of appreciation and excitement for the contest and make sure that you and your staff are doing their best to encourage everyone to show their creativity and personality. 

Make it Benefit a Good Cause

A fun costume party or contest is a welcome change of pace in the office. It can also be an opportunity to do some good. Organize your costume contest in a way that will raise money for a worthy cause. If people are not willing to dress up in a costume for their own sake, they may be more willing if they know that it will benefit others in need.  

Here are a few ways to fundraise from a costume contest:

  • Entry Fee: Charge a small entry fee to enter into the costume contest.
  • Spectator Tickets: Cell tickets to attend the voting and results announcement.
  • Voting System: Require a donation in order to cast a vote, or allow multiple votes but you must pay for each one.
  • Sponsorships: Get local businesses or individuals to sponsor the event.
  • Donation Matching: Encourage higher-ups in the company to match the amount raised.
  • Charity Pledges: Have the contestants get pledges from colleagues (e.g., “If they win, they donate an extra $50”).

Make it Spooktacular!

Sorry about the lame heading for this final section, but to wrap things up, the goal for the costume contest should be fun. Great involvement starts with enthusiasm and promotion. Getting people to commit and start talking about the contest is going to be key to a good turnout. Each day leading up to the Halloween party, you should be promoting the costume contest and working to make sure that it is the topic of everyone’s water cooler conversations. 

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