If a tree falls in the forest…

If your staff don’t have any direct customer-facing contact does it matter how they dress at work, asks Jackie O’Fee.

I am fortunate enough to get asked to speak at events for many different organisations – I love sharing my expertise and perspectives with people, getting them to think beyond the weather forecast when choosing what to wear to work.

 I can be asked to do a one-hour “Why the way you look matters” session through to a full day of one-on-one sessions. This week I’ve had two meetings with two organisations wanting ‘same but different’ desired outcomes. 

The first is a half-day session at a conference. This organisation is keen not only to see a lift in the general standard of dress and grooming, but for their attendees to have a bit of fun along the way while learning about wearing colour (the team apparently wear a lot of black) and about the shapes of garments that flatter different bodies. 

It’s a nice mix and for me the challenge is ensuring that their people don’t simply feel entertained, but also inspired to step up and make a difference when they get dressed each day. I’m really looking forward to it.

The second is slightly trickier to navigate. I met with a new GM in an established company who has taken on a role that has them managing a sizeable team of millennials. There’s no direct customer facing contact for this team as most of their work is via email and telephone, but this new manager is hot on the way we dress in the workplace and is very keen to see a complete shift in their workwear choices. 

It’s going to be an interesting session, as I’m sure that although they may never have thought about the ‘why’ of how you dress for work, the fact they are ‘invisible’ to customers will definitely come into play. I expect a few push-backs of the “but shouldn’t I just be comfortable?” variety. 

So, lets talk about that. Should you, if you don’t deal with customers and clients just dress to be comfortable at work?

 In my own life I have a few ‘client-free’ days and I admit that I do dress down slightly on those days. I am however always conscious that I’m ‘working’ so even if I’m slightly more casually dressed, it’s smart-casual. That said, I’m ‘working’ now as I write this early on a Sunday morning, and here I am sitting at my dining table in my dressing gown as the deadline looms and inspiration has struck.

 I’m pretty sure the completed article won’t be any different than it would be if I was writing in on a Tuesday, dressed for work in my studio. Would I be mortified if a business associate saw me right now? You bet. But working from home is quite a different beast than going to work. 

You see, even if you do not see your customers, you see your colleagues. Even if you are in a back room on the phones or computer, you walk through the front doors of wherever you happen to do business, and you are seen by others. 

When you leave your building and buy your lunch, it’s an interaction where you are seen. You are representing not only the organisation that pays you, but also who you are as a person. If you want to be seen as someone who takes pride in everything they do, it follows that having some pride in the way you dress would be second nature to you. If you’re a scruff who doesn’t care what they wear to work, then how detail focused do you appear to be?   

Everything we do in life sends a message as to who we are as a person. The way we dress is possibly the most obvious display of this – it’s an outward expression of how we are feeling or what we think about ourselves. 

 It could be as subtle as choosing something loose-fitting if you feel like you’ve gained weight, or in an extreme example, someone suffering from depression who stops taking any care with their appearance or personal hygiene.  

So, my question is this: is what you choose to wear a true reflection of who you are and what you believe about yourself? 

 

Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations.  signaturestyle.co.nz

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