Addressing casual dress, gone too far

Dear Joan:

We have an employee who dresses like she is going to a bar to get picked up. Everyday, and I mean every day, she wears hip hugger jeans and low cut blouses. When she sits down, the crack in her butt is showing. She wears waist tops and when she sits down, the blouse is way up on her back, so she is bare from the crack in her butt to the middle of her back. She is very heavy. I would guess she weighs in the high 200’s, if not low 300’s. We are a construction company have lots of construction guys in our office. They love it, I’m sure. The gossip in the office is very tiring. 

My question is this. How does one approach an employee with this type of issue? We have a professional casual dress policy. Jeans are appropriate if they are not old and raggy. How do you address the hip huggers, waist blouses and the low cut blouses? Every top she wears is very low cut.  

She just got her masters. She is 24 years old. I can’t believe she is not going for a job as a teacher. That is what she wanted to do. We hired her part time and she implies she is here to stay. If she were to get a teacher’s job, there is no way I am sure, that she could dress like this for school.  I thank you for any help you can give us. 

Answer:

I’m not sure if you are worried about hurting her feelings or about your rights as an employer. In either case, put your fears aside. She is inappropriately dressed, regardless of her weight or chosen profession.  

Employers often wring their hands about issues such as dress code because they worry that if something isn’t “job related” they wonder if they have the right to say something. In my opinion, it is their business and they have the right to set the standards and image for the good of the company and out of respect for the customer—that’s job related.  

If the managers don’t feel the casual dress policy is explicit enough, they should make it more specific. On the other hand, if they don’t want the policy to contain an endless list of “fashion don’ts,” then they should reach agreement among themselves and give some examples (logo T shirts, ragged jeans, midriff tops, facial piercing, open toed shoes, or whatever else they want to include).  

To cover all other inappropriate dress, you could attach the following to the policy, “Employees are expected to dress professionally and employees may be counseled or even sent home to change, if their professional image doesn’t comply with company standards.”  

Some may think this is too harsh, but I don’t. In my opinion, employees can express themselves on their own time. But when they join a company, they exchange some of their total independence for compliance with company expectations. If they want to buck that system, they can either find a more casual atmosphere or start their own business and see how their own customers react to their personal image. 

Either this employee doesn’t care how she comes across, is doing it on purpose, or is oblivious to her image. Here are some words for addressing the situation with this employee. Her manager needs to gather his or her courage and get ready for a heart-to-heart, but firm, discussion. The goal is to get her to understand the impact her image is having on her credibility with her co-workers and customers and to modify her dress. 

Try this: “Cindy, I know you want to be seen as competent and credible, so you would want to know if there was something getting in the way of that. The way you dress is undermining your credibility and, frankly, it’s not within the company’s dress code.” If she protests or questions this, give her specific examples.  

“Cindy, the dress code is a guideline for employees and you are outside of that. So, let’s talk about what is within the guideline. For example, jeans are fine but they shouldn’t be hip huggers. No skin should show when you’re standing or sitting. Tops should not be revealing.” 

Your best bet is to be straightforward and matter-of-fact. If she comes back with a defense that it doesn’t have any impact on her work, and rationalizes that she should be able to dress any way she wishes, say, “But it does have an impact on your work. It causes inappropriate gossip, doesn’t look professional to our customers and it’s a distraction in the office. Most important-- it erodes your credibility. You need to change it.”


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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