Personal responsibility: baggy trousers, dirty shirt?

This is a short series of blogs lamenting the erosion personal responsibility within organisations. To make decisions is human, yet our ability to do so is being slowly eroded. This short series of blogs explores some of the areas where we might be better left to fend for ourselves – because we can, you know.

There was a recent furore over a major bank’s dress code. While some may argue that the initiative was well-intended, it addressed a symptom and not a cause. The organisation wanted its employees to help improve its image, so told them exactly how to dress (and to make sure they file their toenails) over 44 pages, rather than looking at the deeper question of why its image was below its own expectations.

Like most codes or rule sets, that governing dress makes it easier for us, because in following a prescriptive set we are required to think less. Jeff Goldblum’s five identical outfits for each day of the week in “The Fly” remind us of this – and provided the unfortunate blanket excuse that if you are hyper-intelligent the way you appear does not matter.

Yet by providing strict boundaries the code leads us to think less while acting within its borders. If the dress code says suit and tie, it doesn’t usually insist that the style is current, that it fits, is free of breakfast debris, or that it bears some visual relationship with the accessories. It’s okay, you have a suit and tie on. You’re within policy. So what could be wrong? The bank sought to address these detailed concerns, and were roundly criticised for it.

I have heard a lot recently that in terms of our “personal brand” – as with all brands – we are only the sum of how we are perceived by others. And so it is with ourselves as we stand here. You can have the best blog on the planet, the sharpest LI profile, a razor sharp wit, but sooner or later you will have to show up somewhere.

The issue at the heart of the matter of what to wear for business is not about whether you are compliant with code or policy, but how you have applied yourself to considering your appearance, and therefore how you might be perceived. It is about self-worth, and self-respect.

What you wear for business has to be both appropriate, and reflect the person you wish to be perceived to be. It does not need to cost a lot of money. It does however takes time and thought. There are plenty of sources of advice available – starting, one would hope, with your partner or close friends. You don’t even need to leave the house and run the gauntlet of the high street on a Saturday afternoon.

You should not need a code to tell you what to wear or not to wear. You should be proud of who you are, and how you present yourself. Organisations should not dictate what you should wear on the basis that they do not trust that you will devote any time or thought to the matter. They should instead foster and encourage self-respect and the importance of appearance in how you – and the organisation – are perceived. They should instil the confidence and the means, rather than bypassing it en route to a given solution. It will pay dividends in other areas – performance, communication, relationship development. A dress code will only ever be just a dress code.

You need to consider – if you don’t take an interest in yourself, how can you expect others to take an interest in you?


4 thoughts on “Personal responsibility: baggy trousers, dirty shirt?

  1. I heard part of a very interesting talk at the weekend by @Anthonymccann in which he put forward the idea that the elimination of uncertainty is an act of violence. That’s how I feel about dress codes 🙂

  2. I think there is a lot to be said for daring to be different and, perhaps more importantly, organisations being able to embrace this.

    Whenever I have had a strict suit and tie dress code enforced on me I have found the best way to respond was with a bow tie – beyond the code, almost too much even but lots of fun and making people smile at the same time.

    Adhering and undermining such codes at the same time – it’s the way forward!

  3. You say the organisation ‘wanted its employees to help improve it’s image’ but like all branding issues if the internal brand is weak and isn’t enjoyed by the staff how on earth can they be part of delivering the external brand. Is it a case of the company needing to take the plank out of their own eye before removing the speck from those of their staff?

    Also – we all know that guidelines are for guidance and rules are for breaking.

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