Dressing Down: Don’t do it if you’re looking to rise to the top

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Dressing down for work is not likely to promote you up the career ladder. “The old adage about dressing for the position to which you aspire still holds true,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service placing administrative professionals. “A polished appearance lends credibility and may help employers envision the staff member in a role with greater responsibility.”

When executives were asked to what extent does someone’s style of dress at work influence his or her chances of being promoted, the response was:

• Significantly (33 percent)
• Somewhat (60 percent)
• Not at all (7 percent)

Developed by OfficeTeam, the survey includes responses from 150 senior executives at the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

“Attire is not the only thing workers are judged on, but it is part of the equation. While a proper wardrobe alone won’t earn you a promotion, dressing inappropriately could cost you one,” Domeyer says.

More and more firms nationwide are likely to institute new and more stringent dress codes, even going so far as to establish employee uniforms, according to John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. However, Challenger notes that this could backfire.
“When you take away people’s individuality, you greatly diminish their creativity and ability to think outside of the box. Uniformity in appearance tends to lead to uniformity of thought, which is detrimental to any organization that is trying to expand,” he says.

Some experts contend the movement toward uniform and formal dress codes is in response to the relaxation of these policies during the dot-com boom. “In fact, many dotcommers, some of whom set the bar relatively low when it came to workplace wear, consistently put in 10- to 12-hour days, and even those who did not start the business still worked like entrepreneurs. If anything, we should be emulating these workers and their work styles, not shunning them,” Challenger says.

There does seem to be a middle ground, however, if you just use common sense. OfficeTeam advises people to ask themselves these questions when selecting work attire:

• Would managers at my company wear this? If not, you shouldn’t wear it either.

• Is it a distraction? Unless you’re in a creative industry, flamboyant or overly trendy attire can harm your credibility.

• Does it give me confidence? When you’re dressed sharply, you’re more self-assured.

• Is it clean and in good condition? Avoid clothes that are torn, wrinkled or messy. Sloppy attire may prompt your manager to question your attention to detail.

• Is it comfortable? You want to look good, but you don’t want to be distracted by clothes you’re not used to. Find clothing that fits well and allows you to move freely.   

The Zero-Drag Concept

In the 1990s, the go-go brain trust of California’s Silicon Valley envisioned the perfect worker—the “zero-drag worker”—who had neither family, possessions, commitments nor social life to pull him, or her, away from the job. The rationale was that technology was changing the world so fast that having access to your workers 24/7 put your company in the best position to get ahead. It proved to be a short-lived hope.

A study of 346 managers by the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C., found that parents learn such skills as negotiating, compromising, conflict resolution and multitasking in the home that help them in their work. It found that the work performance of parents, spouses or committed partners was rated higher by their bosses and peers than that of other people. Indeed, any worker who maintains a healthy social life is as well positioned to excel on the job as those from family units, while people who don’t have anything else in their lives are not performing as well.  Common sense tells us that the zero-drag worker was a bad idea from the start.       

—Michael Kinsman