The Finance Department is eerily silent.
Chairs are tucked under the desks. Computer screens are blank, and calculators sit idly atop yellow notepads. Not a soul is working on the end-of-month books, nor are there any employees floating about asking questions. It almost seems like a ghost town.
And every year in October, the Zappos Finance Department is a ghost town! Since 2006, the company’s financial analysts, accountants and payroll clerks volunteer their time (and a portion of their budget) to construct an on-site haunted house to fright and delight employees.
And it’s a great stress reliever as well. Finance gets to let their hair down by spooking the company with crazy clowns, sinister dolls and unnerving mind games instead of general ledgers, complicated spreadsheets and tax reports.
Downstairs in the “basement of doom,” New Hire Training classrooms and hallways get entirely disguised with blackout tarp, creating nine differently themed rooms.
This year’s focus was on psychological thrillers, and nine teams were each given $500 to trick out their dedicated space. Cyndi Tatum, Zappos' finance office manager, is the brains behind the operation and devotes nearly two full months to plan and put on the haunted project.
The grim maze takes about 20 minutes to meander through which, if you’re easily frightened, feels like a lifetime in hell. Let’s walk through a few of my favorite spine-tingling rooms together … just don’t let go of my hand.
"Scarecrow Screams" / New Hire Training
Nightmare Before Christmas
Sharing is not caring when it comes to Zappos Social. You’d think this room would be a bit less unnerving, especially because Jack Skellington is so danged adorable. But having Ooogie Boogie jumping out from the shadows, and rogue chairs filled with presents thrown towards you isn’t for the faint of heart!
The Dot Room
Sponsored by the FP&A team, imagine walking into a room of complete darkness, only to be interrupted by hundreds of bright white dots. They’re on the floor, the walls, the ceiling. It’s a paralyzing, out-of-body experience. But don’t stare for too long as it gets worse when the dots begin to move closer and closer. Volunteers in black bodysuits, covered in the white dots, blended perfectly into the ethereal scene.
The devil was in the details for the Think and Legal teams. If you ever find yourself in a candle-lit room with a big mirror on one side, and ghoulish-looking women on the other, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit. Stick around for a split-second longer, and the “Bloody Mary” chants will distract you from the apparition that emerges from behind.
"The Spirit Room" / Accounts Payable
Who knew the folks in Accounting were so mean-spirited? As everyone knows, most girls love to play with dolls when they’re little; but naming them Annabelle is a major no-no. In this cryptic chamber, the life-size doll sitting in the corner came to life and was more than happy to reach out and scare the bejesus out of anyone walking past. Oh, by the way, Annabelle called. She wants your soul!
When it comes to creativity, the Campus team ain’t no dummies. Step foot into this blinding white room and you’re instantly surrounded by white balloons and Mannequins dressed in white sprawled on the floor. Staring at all those figures was a bit disconcerting. It was even more disconcerting when some of them came to life and attempted to grasp the ankles! Mannequin challenge? I failed!
"The Mask Room" / JIRA
Once everyone’s heartbeat went back down to a reasonable pounding, participants voted for the Scariest, Most Creative and Best Overall rooms. So, which team’s won this year’s most unpleasantly pleasing rooms?
Accounting’s “Annabelle” won the scariest room; FP&A got the most creative with “The Dot Room”; best overall was handed to the Campus team for “Mannequin Nightmare”;’ and a bonus honor, the Tatum Award, which went to the team that raised the most neck hairs, was the Think and Legal teams.
After a whirlwind of an afternoon, the Finance haunted house has given me a new appreciation for the people that work so hard throughout the year to make sure the bills get paid, the paychecks get deposited and the spreadsheets get spread.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll go through next year’s haunted house!