"My Colleagues Are Back in the Office, but Most of Them Dress Like Slobs."
03/21/23 Edition Stephen Says Column
Our company is back in the office. I work for one of the big furniture manufacturers, in the #Dallas sales office. It’s pretty much business as usual. Even my coworkers that were coming in 3 days a week are now in 5 days a week. The problem for me is that, even though we’re back to work in the office, people are tending to dress like they’re still working from home. This goes beyond just the clothes they wear; it includes things like personal hygiene. Messy hair, guys that don’t shave, sometimes I even wonder if one of my coworkers is brushing his teeth. It’s almost as if my colleagues think just showing up is enough. Let’s just say that the way we used to dress on #casualFriday would be a major improvement compared to what people are wearing during the week here.
I love coming back to work because it’s social. I miss my colleagues. I’m a mom with kids, pets, and a husband who still works at home. I love having the nanny back and getting out of the house. I have a life again and I’m happy. I take pride in my appearance, not only because it’s important to me, but also because I’m in outside sales and I want to look professional in front of my customers. Let’s face it, “looking professional” means something different to different people, and that’s the way it should be. I don’t feel someone needs to be formally dressed every day, but is it crazy to say that they need to be clean? At my office, I swear my showroom manager rarely brushes her hair and maybe only showers once a week. Even our regional VP, who is in his early 50s and my boss, hasn’t shaven in months. It’s not like he has cool George Clooney stubble, he looks like my retired grandpa. I never remembered any of these people in my office looking like this before the pandemic.
Here's why it affects me. We have a lot of presentations in the showroom. The architects and designers, end users, and dealers, come here for presentations and they’re dressed up for work. These people come to see this beautiful, expensive product while my colleagues are walking around like they just don’t care. So even if I’m the one that’s dressed to the nines, everyone around me looks like they’re ready to go to the gym. This can’t be the new normal, could it? But it starts with my boss.
Here’s my question to you, Stephen: How do I get my colleagues and my boss on board with the fact that we need to establish some kind of, dare I say, dress code, or at least look neater and cleaner when we’re coming to work every day? I’m not saying they have to look like Abercrombie models, but we need to look as professional as the furniture we sell. There’s so much emphasis on “excellence” today. We’re in an aesthetic industry. What’s wrong with having our people present themselves at the same level as our products?
Dress for Success!
Dear Ms. Success,
The most crystal-clear part of what you’re saying to me is that employees feel like just showing up for work is enough. This is an equal opportunity offense when it comes to both dress and hygiene. Women and men dress equally messy because you’re right, many of them have been working at home for the past 2 years. Remember, some of these are the very same people you would see in your Teams meetings standing up to reveal they’re in their underwear. Now they actually have to put on pants! Of course they’re going to look sloppy.
What you’re saying about being excited to come to work is generally what we hear. People love the idea of putting on an outfit to come to work. Going to work has become the new “date night”. In other words, it’s special… for now.
People tell me they’re excited about getting a manicure, more frequent haircuts, even going to the gym, which is an indication of how you feel and look- though I’m afraid the stubble trend is here to stay (there is a point with men over 50 that don’t recognize the difference between stubble and sloppy). I hear exactly what you said from other readers. They’re interacting with their clients again. Their clients and customers are happy to be at work, and they can see that because they’re dressed neatly. I somehow don’t like the word “professional” anymore, but they use common sense to determine how they dress themselves. Even before the pandemic, ties were disappearing from our offices. Shoe styles have changed for everyone too. But putting some effort into the way you look and dress typically makes someone feel better. While answering your question, I’m going to share some career advice that I frequently give to candidates, which applies to appearance.
- Get in front of a full-length mirror. If you’re going on an interview, or back into the office, you should see that you look neat and clean.
- If you’re going on an interview, it’s still an interview. Sometimes a jacket is still appropriate, even if a tie is not.
- Although you should be showered and neat and clean, avoid strong smelling cologne or perfume. An offensive scent can come from your body and a bottle.
- Everyone should have a client-facing outfit ready to go. That client-facing outfit could also be used as your interview outfit if you ever start looking :)
- Here’s a Viscusi favorite that people are sometimes offended by: Consider buying some #Crest whitening strips, or any similar brand. Spruce up your smile, it’s usually one of the first things people notice.
As far as how to tackle this delicate issue with your boss and colleagues, let me be clear in answering your question: It is not such a delicate issue. Simply tell your manager this. After you have your next presentation in your showroom, share with your boss, and maybe your colleagues, that the customer commented to you that it looked like your company was taking Casual Friday to a new level and turned it into #SloppySaturday. They’ll get the hint.
Stephen Viscusi is the CEO of www.viscusigroup.com, an executive search practice specializing in the interior furnishings industry. Hires made through The Viscusi Group are guaranteed a one-year free replacement. Please share your story or comment on this article and send your workplace questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or give us a call at (212) 979-5700; ext. 101.
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