Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

The Careerist: Not Letting It All Hang Out

Helping you navigate the turbulent waters of Hawaii’s working world

September, 2015

“I wish people would fully understand the ‘No boobs, No butts, No bellies’ policy when getting dressed for work … unless you work from home like I do. Then you can just let it all hang out.”

This comment has two interesting ideas. One, how to tactfully remind a subordinate about proper clothing? Second, is it really OK to let it all hang out at home or should a person have some decorum even when working remotely? I took these thoughts to Pam Chambers, a professional speaker and presentation coach based in Honolulu.

The subject of attire always arises during her presentation skills classes. “I ask participants to describe three adjectives on how they want to come across. If they say they want to look successful, but they are wearing shoddy shoes, their credibility goes down – particularly if it’s someone who is a financial planner and is expecting clients to trust him or her with money.”

It gets more difficult to address proper dress, Chambers says, when she’s dealing with a whole company. “And they don’t have a written dress code,” she says. “Or they do and it’s very vague, like ‘All employees are expected to dress in a professional manner.’ If you look at the Halekulani hotel, for example, it has a very specific dress code, with everything spelled out, including the length of nails and what jewelry is appropriate. If an employee isn’t within these clearly defined boundaries, it’s easier for a supervisor to say, ‘You’re not in code.’ ”

Here’s where I was expecting Chambers to start railing against employees and exposed belly buttons. But, no, she
puts the blame squarely on a company’s leadership.

“Boobs, butts, bellies, it’s clearly an HR issue. Does the employee need a conversation? Or hold a group meeting, and put it on yourself as the leader. ‘I’m raising the bar. From now on you can expect me to be more in line with what’s compliant.’ You have to demonstrate that this is important. If not, you are sabotaging your success in other areas.”

“A dress code is about a company’s shared vision and how it conveys that to the world.”

Pam Chambers, professional speaker and presentation coach

A dress code is about a company’s shared vision and how it conveys that to the world, Chambers says. “If one or two people or a dozen in a company of 60 are not demonstrating that vision, a company may call me to do a workshop. I tell them, I’m not talking to the employees – I’m talking to you. I don’t do workshops that are solely about workplace attire. I would rather talk to the leaders about how they can walk the walk. Basketball coaches have zero hesitation to say, ‘Thomas, tuck in your shirt.’ But in business, people who should be leaders will look the other way because they are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or being too manini. Then two or three days later, someone else is breaking the rules. Either have a dress code and enforce it, or don’t.”

In terms of letting it all hang out while working from home, you might want to step away from the yoga pants. In a study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, subjects given a white lab coat to wear performed significantly better on a cognitive test than those who were wearing normal street clothes. They simply took themselves more seriously.

Chambers points out that your day starts when you’re ready to face the world, whether it’s a FedEx guy at the door or a client who spontaneously requests a Skype face to face. “Mary Kay Ash, who founded the Mary Kay makeup company in 1963, would tell her sales force that, before they started their morning calls to make appointments, they had to be fully dressed, with hair and makeup done, so that they could make good phone calls,” says Chambers.

Ash firmly believed that you take yourself more seriously when you’ve got the right image – and, as a leader, she wasn’t afraid to say so. For more on the subject of workplace attire, see Paula Rath’s story, “You’re Wearing That to Work?” in our April 2015 issue.

“Congrats on the new column! Please set the record straight on reply all etiquette. The more seasoned office professionals still don’t understand how to use it and I’m really sick of the ‘Mahalo for the malasadas’ e-mails.”

Mmm, malasadas … OK, I’m back. That reply all option is like salt – use sparingly, lest you raise blood pressures. Routine use of reply all can crowd people’s email in-boxes and be downright distracting if someone has email alerts set up. Either way, this has real costs in terms of productivity.

The question to ask before you hit reply all is, “Does anyone care?” Does the whole office need to read, “Thanks!” or “OK”? Probably not. Only use reply all if other people need information or need to take action based on what you’re saying.

If you’re in an office where your co-workers are too quick on the reply-all draw, you can stop the cacophony. On Gmail, click on the conversation, then the More button above the messages, then select Mute. (Or use the keyboard shortcut “m.”) These muted conversation threads will now only show up if you search for them with “is:muted” or if a new message in the conversation comes in addressed solely to you. Outlook has a similar feature, called Ignore Conversation. In the message list, open the conversation. Click Home, then Delete, then Ignore, then Ignore Conversation. Ensuing messages will only show up in your deleted folder.

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