Speaking to an employee about her clothing--kind'a quick would be good

She’s just had a promotion from a starter clerical position into a semi-professional position where she will be the only person in the company with that job.

She wears raveled out at the heel jeans and tops I would consider junk. Not T-shirts, but just, I dunno, big baggy shirts.

I’ve tried like hell with gentle suggestions to get her to ramp it up. She will dress appropriately if I tell her (sometimes repeatedly) that we have a scheduled meeting, but the other day we had a call from a radio rep we needed to speak with who just showed up at our offices. And frankly, she looked like a 14 year old kid who just rolled out of bed. And I dread the owners bringing in someone to meet her which they’re known to do with no warning whatsoever–vendors, reps etc.

We have a dress code that requires uniform for specific people. The office personnel, of which she is one, are requested to wear business casual. I think allowances were certainly made by previous bosses since her position was very junior.

I currently hold the position she will be assuming. I have always tried to dress appropriately and have even made a special point of it to try to be an example.

And it goes deeper (apologies for the length of this). She has body image issues. She developed early and is a busty woman. But getting those bosoms in 6th grade meant she was shamed and teased, which, at 30, she’s apparently never gotten over. Damn you junior high. And at 30, she’s getting a gut, which I can’t help with obviously, so she tries like hell to hide both bosom and gut.

I have to do a review in 3 hrs. and I just am torn up trying to figure out how to tell her without hurting her, although, I have made many many gentle comments, she’s not getting it. I will have to mark this as an unsatisfactory on an otherwise pretty positive review. She is my only employee and she in training status.

Just tell her. Have a proper definition of business casual at hand (Google it or write it up yourself if you want to be really specific). Say, “Jane, congratulations on your promotion! One of the changes I’ll need to see is you sticking to the dress code every day. That includes not wearing jeans, making sure your clothes are clean and undamaged, your hair is neat and tidy, fill in other points here. Can you commit to that?”

(You should also have a better objection than “just, I dunno, big baggy shirts” to comment on her current choices.)

Then, every day following your conversation, if she is NOT dressed appropriately, TELL HER. Be specific - "Jane, we spoke about professional dress on Sept 25, and this outfit is not appropriate because of X reason. (If you want to be nice: “I’ll let it slide for today, but if this happens again, you will have to go home and change.” If you want to be a hard-ass: “You need to go home and come back in business casual dress. I don’t want to have to speak to you about this again.”)

Then, if she keeps it up, give her positive feedback on that too. If she doesn’t keep it up, treat it just like you would any other performance issue - lay out expectations, deadlines, consequences.

In the other areas of her responsibility, how is she doing? If she has no attendance issues, no errors in quality or production, where else other than in her personal appearance is she failing? If she is doing her job well, then a negative review would be an error on your part in reviewing her as her manager.

Her area where she is failing is in personal appearance and from what you’ve explained, its a criteria in her job description to be a representative to her company. Document the conversations you have had with her and what she was wearing that is out of dress code. Escalate it as necessary, but you need to stay consistent. When she is dressed inappropriately, send her home to change, unpaid if she is hourly, and let her know she must return when she is dressed in accordance with the company dress code. Worn, dirty, torn wrinkled clothing is being out of dress code. Each incident is an occurrence in a progressive discipline office.

Now documentation aside, you mention that you’ve had conversations with her. What are her future career goals? Is it a matter of finance? Perhaps she is not able to afford nicer appropriate outfits, perhaps her financial obligations exceed what she makes. If she plans on moving ahead, in any industry, especially in a position of leadership, she should consider the presentation she makes in her daily appearance. One day she may be in the same position you are in now, how would she handle an employee with the same situation?

There are many flattering, office appropriate clothing choices that are affordable, its a matter of looking and as loathsome as this store can be, Wal Mart does have affordable, somewhat stylish and flattering clothing to get started. Even goodwill has a department to help dress career minded individuals.

Its typically a matter of Skill VS Will in many HR situations, either you don’t know how to do it or you do but you don’t care to do it. Which applies to her?

Just checked my handy-dandy “How to be a Manager” textbook from one of my classes, and here’s the book version:

“Redirective” Feedback (feedback designed to change, as opposed to “Reinforcing” feedback, which is feedback designed to encourage a past behaviour)

-Focus on the facts
-Communicate the impact of their behaviour
-Be clear about the changes we need to see, and when
-Probe them for a plan to improve
-Encourage their efforts
-Reinforce their value to the team/organization.

Do you pay her enough to make a new wardrobe feasible? Someone working at a starter clerical position probably isn’t bringing in the big bucks.

Yeah, just tell her. Don’t beat around the bush. Subtlety is not your friend here.

When I went from a basically blue-collar job where I wore whatever the hell I wanted to a more professional job in an office, after about a month the director of my department summoned me to her office and straight up told me to act like I had an adult job stop dressing like I was still a college student. She wasn’t as bitchy about it as that sounds, she was actually quite nice about it, but still, there was no ambiguity in the message, whatsoever.

I remember the specific words that stuck with me were, “Look around and notice how everyone else is dressed.”

She may still be struggling financially if her past salary was very small. It could be that she’s telling her self “Next paycheck” again and again.

Consider asking the bosses to give her a bonus expressly for this purpose. Even $300 could make a big difference. Then give her very strict guidelines on how it is to be used.

Also, what is your definition of business casual? Could it be different than what she’s been taught? Make sure your requirements are clear.

This is not an area where gentle suggestions will work. She thinks she is dressing fine for the role and if you tell her she has not been I bet she will ask why you never told her before.

You need to be direct. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will be awkward. It is much less awkward and uncomfortable to just get it over with. Apparently this has been going on for a while so expect extra resistance.

I would ask for a private meeting (no need to shame in front of everyone) with either another manager or a rep from HR present in case she accuses you of hitting on her or sexually harassing you or something. Give her specifics: “You may not wear sneakers, jeans, or t-shirts in this role” not “You need to dress business casual”. Avoid mentioning specific items of clothing though: “You may not wear that shirt” could mean to her that the mickey mouse shirt is not ok but the iron man tshirt is fine.

I’d open with “look, you aren’t in trouble and I’m uncomfortable doing this too, but we all want success for you and for the company, so we need to talk about the dress code”. Follow-up with a thanks for something good she’s done recently.

But for sanity’s sake, quit beating around the bush.

Make sure this young lady knows exactly what type of clothing is required. I’ve found some of our recent college grads to be relatively clueless on what ‘business casual’ really means. They hear ‘casual’ and miss the rest of the message. Perhaps you or someone in your office who ‘gets’ it, could go shopping with her in a non-official capacity. I did that with one of my new grads here at my office with very positive results.

If it’s a financial think - and it could be - I agree it might be appropriate to check with management to see if they’d authorize a small sum for some new work clothes. Again, though, I’d recommend that someone go with her to help spend it.

I’d be a little reluctant to put it on her permanent record (her review), until I’d gotten to the bottom of the ‘why’ she dresses as she does. If she knows its wrong, knows how to fix it and can afford to fix it and still does it, then yes, put it on the review. If none of those apply, I’d suggest a little remdiation off-the-record , with the proviso that it be corrected by the next review or it will go on the permanent record.

Also, giving the bonus in the form of a Visa gift card may allow her to shop online if local choices are slim.

I also assume it might be due to financial strain. Since you mentioned she’s recently put on weight, it’s reasonable to assume that whatever business casual clothes she may have had no longer fit.

Are there role models available, either in your firm (who might be persuaded to go shopping with her), or at worst online images - try a few online catalogue firms you could show her to make clear what you mean.

Don’t present it as if her way of dressing is wrong. Explain that it’s just not in compliance with the company dress code. And make it clear she needs to follow the dress code whenever she’s at work and not just on some occasions.

Explaining the company dress code is fine and reasonable. Commenting on her weight or breast development is unnecessary and potentially harmful (to you both, in fact). Don’t even go there.

I like this. I suspect I am making myself miserable over this. But I will need to stress that Monday coming, I need to see improvement, and yes, she could be sent home.

I know for a fact it’s not financial. She makes a healthy wage due to longevity, purchased a home 2 years ago (single woman) and has a nice 401 for a 30 yr. old.

She can hide her figure in appropriate clothing, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s even more important for women with perfect figures if they want to be taken seriously. She’s not obligated to be attractive, but she needs to be appropriate.

The first paragraph above is the key concern.

Some people think that if enough money is spent on an outfit, that means it must be appropriate for work. Depending on where she shops, her current wardrobe may cost as much as what you consider business casual. So tell her: “Look, business casual for this organization means pants (not jeans) or a skirt, a shirt with a collar or blouse, or a dress. Skirts or dresses should be close to knee-length.” Then tell her what your opinion of “appropriate” footwear is, and leave it at that.

And I agree, don’t talk about her body at all.

Thrift stores or consignment shops may be an option too. But I agree…she must be told clearly what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Why stress yourself? Just tell her that there are company policies about appropriate dress, which were less important in her previous position, but are now compulsory for her new position.

Tell her that a skirt, blouse with a collar ,and nice shoes are appropriate; jeans are not.

And maybe tell a white lie: that a client who met with her was upset by her appearance. On his way out of the building the client called his boss on his cell phone and you overheard him saying that the meeting went okay, but it was a bit difficult for him at first because he had to overcome the unprofessional appearance of the employee he met with.
And for og’s sake, why did you tell us about her big boobs in 6th grade? If you are male, you could be in big trouble for even thinking such thoughts (and the thought police are everywhere these days.)If you are female, and she of her own volition mentioned her "early development " to you in a private conversation, it is still no concern of yours in the workplace.

Echoing the comments to keep it strictly about the clothing.

Not acceptable: jeans, t-shirts, sweatpants, sweat shirts, yoga pants, stretch pants

Acceptable: whatever is acceptable, which I am assuming is dresses, skirts, chinos, slacks, sweaters, tailored shirts, blouses, jackets. I would personally let her have tunics, which, conversationally between us, might be a good wardrobe choice for someone who wants a lot of coverage in the areas you described, but in terms of a conversation with an employee, you may list tunics but DO NOT say anything else about them.

It’s really important that you say NOTHING about the motivations for her choices, whether you think they are related to budget, body shape, instructions from aliens, anything. That is when you get into very risky territory.

I will also add the possibility that this might only go so far. It is entirely possible that a person will manage to look sloppy even wearing the things on the acceptable list.