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This time of year, don’t give up the ghost

With Halloween approaching, some Baltimore businesses are getting spooky.

Bob Simko, manager at Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point, says customers have come to expect the establishment to be dressed up for whatever holiday or event is happening.

At Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point, the store displays and rooftop decorations outside give customers a taste of the festive creepiness inside.

Just around the corner, at Riptide by the Bay, the staff has geared up for the Halloween pub crawl with a scarecrow contest. The two entries are on display at the restaurant’s storefront, framed by cobwebs.

At businesses like these, the decor is partially intended to attract more customers, who are looking for a fun, dynamic atmosphere.

“Now, it’s almost expected of us,” said Bob Simko, a manager at Max’s Taphouse. “Whenever [people] come by and it’s a holiday, everyone looks at the rooftop.”

Right now, that rooftop is decorated with a creepy, rotating mobile of skeletons — a teaser to the collection of ghostly figures, zombies and bats adorning the inside of the bar.

At Max’s, manager Mike Metcalf has taken charge of changing decorations regularly as one of several job duties. But at Riptide by the Bay, a staff contest was part of the fun.

“I think change is good, and any time you can make the environment fun, it’s not just a job, but a fun job,” said Amber Groves, a manager at the seafood locale.

Groves is not alone in her thought process, which is why other companies in Baltimore — even those who do not depend on walk-in customers — have gotten festive as well.

At PTC International Inc.’s office on Charles Street, the marketing company’s foods division got festive with a pumpkin decorating contest. Several employees from that division took home pumpkins to paint, and the rest of the office voted.

“We’re a creative company,” said Gianni Andracchio, who works in the company’s sports division. “It’s cool to see how creative people can get … seeing what people can do outside of work.”

Next door, at Live Baltimore, staff saw PTC’s artsy gourds and got inspired. The executive director, Steven Gondol, had already purchased pumpkins for the display window. In a staff meeting Monday, he and the other employees discussed how they would enhance those pumpkins.

“I’m always mindful [of] any opportunity you can bring a little lighthearted fun,” said Gondol. “It’s just a quality of life aspect for the staff here.”

Gondol and others like him have a point, several experts said.

These type of activities could benefit a company’s teamwork, said Paul Hanges, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park who does research in organizational psychology.

“Organizations these days are heavily group-oriented,” he said. “By having a team work on a cooperative task that’s fun to do … that will make everyone feel more friendly to each other [and create] higher morale.”

Furthermore, occasions like this can help employees enjoy their work.

“It falls into this work-life balance, I think,” said Tom Mitchell, industrial and organizational psychologist at the University of Baltimore. “It’s a more personal relationship when the employer encourages that sort of thing. It tells the employee, ‘We’re interested in you as a person.’”

That level of interest can spill over into customer relationships as well, whether or not that customer can visit the workplace in person.

“What goes on in an organization is not hidden,” said Hanges. Happier employees may treat the customer better.

Benjamin Schneider, a senior research fellow for Virginia-based business advisory company CEB, agrees. Schneider often deals with organizational climate, and said decorations are beneficial for the same reason that companies are encouraged to donate to charity or commit other acts of corporate social responsibility.

“What some companies have discovered, mostly by happenstance, is that they can influence the way their employees think about their companies by doing things that are seemingly extraneous to the company’s main task,” said Schneider. “There is some research to suggest that this kind of behavior on the part of companies leads the employees to have a little bit more trust in the companies.”