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Your Office Coach: Provide clear guidance on dress code

By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune News Service –

QUESTION: One of my employees frequently wears clothing that is too small and too tight. Although we have a written dress code, “Rachel” has apparently decided to ignore it. Both customers and co-workers have commented on the amount of skin and cleavage she displays.

I asked Rachel if she would like some assistance in selecting suitable outfits for the office, but she said no. Now I can’t decide whether I should make the dress code more specific, send her home to change, or just write her up. What would you suggest?

ANSWER: As Rachel’s boss, you have every right to clearly define appropriate office attire and see that she complies. But this particular option seems to be missing from your list of possible actions. Somewhere between “asking if she would like assistance” and “writing her up” is a more logical strategy: Firmly describe your expectations, then follow up with ongoing feedback.

For example: “Rachel, we need to talk about appropriate dress for the office. Any outfit that exposes a lot of skin between your shoulders and knees is not acceptable because it looks unprofessional. For instance, the shirt you are wearing today is too low-cut for work, but the dress you wore yesterday was fine. To be sure these expectations are clear, let’s discuss some other examples.”

From then on, if Rachel dresses inappropriately, immediately send her home to change. But when she makes correct clothing choices, acknowledge her good judgment. When attempting to change an employee’s behavior, managers need to not only correct missteps, but also praise progress.

Q: My co-worker, “Ted,” sometimes leaves the office for two or three hours in the middle of the day. When I refused to cover for him, he became angry and retaliated by telling the owner that I didn’t have enough work to do. Since the owner believes every word Ted says, she decided to increase my workload. Now I’m overwhelmed, but I don’t know what to do about it. By the way, Ted is the owner’s nephew.

A: Your last sentence contains the most pertinent fact about this situation, because family businesses have some unique characteristics. For one thing, relatives almost always have greater influence and flexibility than other employees. Therefore, even though it may not seem fair, the odds are good that Ted’s aunt will continue to favor him in the future.

This does not mean that you must suffer in silence, but it does mean that you should avoid complaining about Ted. So instead of trying to settle the score with your vindictive colleague, calmly explain to the owner how your unmanageable workload is creating business problems. Provide meaningful examples, then propose a reasonable solution.

If these family dynamics become too frustrating, you can always start looking for a more conventional place to work. But if you choose to stay with this company, just remember that getting along with Ted will be an ongoing job requirement.

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