Summertime Woes of an HR Pro.

For each event that makes the masses happy, there’s a group of people who dread that very same event. For example, I’ve worked in retail for more than a decade. That’s more than ten years of being in the frenzy that comes with the holidays: no days off, no vacations and no relief. We eat it up, though, because for many of us retail employees, those two or so months can account for 50% or more of our yearly salary. But with the extra income, comes extra work. So while the masses sing along to cheerful holiday carols, enjoy fun gift exchanges at the office and excitedly plan trips out-of-town to visit relatives, retail employees are in a whirlwind.

I imagine it’s the same for HR professionals/managers and summer. While the rest of us anticipate summer and the warmth, fashion, travels and fun it brings, HR folks are holding their breath as employees start to forget half of their clothes at home. It’s not a fun situation, but addressing it doesn’t have to be a nightmare, either. Below are some ideas on how to address the summertime sexy that creeps into many offices this time of year. (Consider and adhere to your office’s culture and policies before handling any issue.)


Tactic One:

  • I’ve heard stories about young men who wore baggy-saggy jeans that fell way below their waistlines until they saw their dads wearing that same style. They saw how ridiculous it looked. Sometimes people need to see the discretion from the outside looking in. If the attire has gotten out of hand in your office, try having a live fashion show displaying the good, bad and ugly of office attire. Don’t think anyone in your office would be down to showcase the mishaps in front of everyone? If that’s the case, display only the good, and verbally describe the bad. This approach works very well in a retail environment where there are plenty of clothes on the racks to choose from for an internal fashion show.

Tactic Two:

  • Have you ever seen David Chappelle’s “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong” skits? The skits show people who end up in bad situations because they said and did exactly what was on their mind. They faced jail time, humiliation and a host of other consequences. Well believe it or not, sometimes keeping it real goes right. Instead of distributing the dress code excerpt featured in your employee handbook, try this: keep it real. The second you see a g-string peeking out at you, pull that person aside and discreetly tell them their stuff is hanging out, and that while someone might be happy to see it, work is not the right venue in which to offer peep-shows.

Tactic Three:

  • The previous tip is great but might not always work. While we wish we could say exactly what’s on our minds at work, the truth is, we sometimes can’t. If the keep-it-real approach doesn’t quite fit your company culture, try a more “office-correct” approach and compliment people for good behavior. “Stacey” may come to work in eyebrow raising fashions on most days, but on the one day that she wears office appropriate gear, lay the compliments on thick. Most people notice that they get complimented more for certain looks than others. Hopefully the compliments will lead to changed behavior.

Tactic Four:

  • One company I worked for had a full length mirror near the employee entrance with this question written across the top: “Are you dressed professionally?” This prompted us to answer the question ourselves every single day. Having to read that question and review yourself in the mirror makes it harder to come in dressed inappropriately. Try it. 

Tactic Five:

  • As much as I’m against referring people to the employee handbook as a main form of communications, or merely distributing sections of the handbook as a policy reminder, doing so is good for documentation purposes. Managers will be able to go into conversations knowing that employees had access to the policy. The unfortunate thing is that most employees won’t read it. But optimistically speaking, if only a few do, that’s a few who might follow the policy and hopefully be a good example for their peers.

Tactic Six:

  • Have magazines in your employee lounging areas that show images of people dressed how you would want your employees to dress. This reinforces the image without forcing it down anyone’s throat.

It can be a challenge to address what’s professional or not when everyone has different opinions about it. But if you have solid rules (like no open-toe, no sleeveless and no flip-flops) you can easily call infractions out. The last tip is to be an example. The next time you get dressed for work, think about how many people your outfit might influence for the good or the bad. And the next time you shop during the holiday season, think about how many times your sales associate has to say “happy holidays” every. single. day.

Happy Summer!


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