Monday, July 14, 2008

Dress

So my boss wants to introduce a "dress code" at work. I was quite taken aback because it has been quite mellow working for her, and this is obviously not mellow. So I wrote her a letter:

Rather than stew on it, I thought I should mention this to you.

I was shocked and a bit upset that you want to impose a dress code. It seems so contrary to how you run your business. I wanted to discuss it with you, but not at the meeting, because I do not think it would be reasonable to seem to be causing trouble in that setting.

There are many ways to look at workplaces, but in my experience, they tend to be of two types. In one type, the workplace is collegiate, or adult. People are treated as responsible beings, trusted to achieve the goals of the organisation. They never feel coerced into doing what they do not want to, because they are only asked to do their professional duties. These are far the best workplaces to find yourself in, because you do not need to concern yourself with office politics and you feel respected and valued. In what you might describe as the school-type, or juvenile, workplace, things are different. Here you are not trusted, and bosses are concerned with the exercise of power, particularly in areas that are not directly concerned with work.

The key element of the collegiate workplace is consensus. Your boss does not have to give you orders, because he or she is never asking anything you would not agree was necessary to achieve the objectives you have been set. The boss exercises leadership with consent. It is no problem to do what they ask because you agree that it needs to be done.The key element of the school-type workplace is bullying. The boss exercises leadership by coercion. You are forced to do what he or she wants because of the implicit threat to your livelihood. Some of the demands placed on you are arbitrary or petty. You know the kind of thing I mean: in a collegiate workplace, if you need to be late into work because you have to see a doctor, or deliver your children to school, it is no drama, because you are trusted to complete the work before you in any case, and trusted to be reliable and honest about what you are doing. In the school-type workplace, this sort of thing creates a huge drama. I have worked in places in which a boss would ensure that you were docked pay -- even in a monthly paid job -- for turning up late. You can imagine that that does not create a happy work environment.

As far as dress codes go, it would be clearly reasonable were we customer facing to ask that we dress in a particular way. I'm not a huge fan of banks' asking their staff to wear corporate uniforms, but the notion that you should present yourself in a particular way in that enivronment is not unreasonable. Same too is something like the police, where one dresses in a uniform so as to be recognisable by the people you serve.

But we do not face customers. The only reason you have a dress code is that you want it. It is not a reasonable requirement of the workplace, because it is entirely arbitrary. There is no purpose for it but to please you. Well, of course, you pay my wages, and I'm inclined to please you. But I feel comfortable enough with you to let you know that I'm unhappy about it, and in my opinion, it changes the character of the workplace from a friendly, collegiate environment in which each feels secure and content to one in which the arbitrary exercise of power breeds insecurity. After all, in a school, the children must obey arbritary rules set by the principal, but they do not like it. In a university, one is not hassled about things that are not connected to study, such as one's clothing, and it is a much better place to study in.


Regards

9 Comments:

At 10:10 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well that could go many ways you could win her over, dress codes suck although many work place psychologists claim smart dress improves productivity. You could also have marked you cards. If i were a boss the wording/tone of that note would probably piss me off as it was a tad condescending.

 
At 11:52 pm, Blogger P. said...

If i were a boss the wording/tone of that note would probably piss me off as it was a tad condescending.

If I were his boss I'd be on my knees begging forgiveness and asking which part of my naked body he wanted to come on.

But you know, that's just my twisted sense of collegiatedness.

 
At 1:00 am, Blogger Arleen said...

The only reason you have a dress code is that you want it. It is not a reasonable requirement of the workplace, because it is entirely arbitrary. There is no purpose for it but to please you.

I was with you up until this point. Rather than being accusatory, it would have been more diplomatic to say something like:

I would hate to see the collegiate atmosphere that you have encouraged until now marred. I would ask that you reconsider the introduction of a dress code.

At that point, if there were a rational reason for introducing the dress code she might mention it. Maybe she read the same thing anonymous mentioned about productivity, and perhaps, unknown to you, not everyone has been holding up their share, so she thought it might be a good idea. I'm only speculating, of course.

You basically accused her of being a petty dictator instead of respecting her as a rational adult, assuming she might have a plausible reason for wanting to do this, and asking her what it was.

Even were she a very reasonable person such as I ;-) and recognized the truth of what you were saying, her hackles would rise after reading that letter.

Please say you haven't sent it yet.

 
At 3:14 am, Blogger $Zero said...

the dress code at bickerfest.com is quite strict.

 
At 10:26 am, Anonymous theminotaur said...

The only reason you have a dress code is that you want it.

Yes, Arleen, this is a very direct way of putting it. It is also the point of the whole letter. And it happens to be the core of the matter at hand: The boss coming up with rules that have little to do with the actual work.

That is not to say that the boss doesn't have a reason for instituting it. She may have visited another office and liked the look of it. Or, she may be trying to deal with a specific employee in this backwards manner that would influence everyone. Or, she may have visited one of those "how to run your business" seminars that recommended a dress code as a way of control. Something like, "how to make your employees respect you without any major changes", blah blah blah; business education (at least, in the states) seems to be full of this half-assed psychoanalytical bullshit.

Not that those instructors are entirely without a point. While we may argue the postulate of "you are what you eat", it is very difficult to argue "you are what you wear". I mean, to everyone around you, you are defined by what you look like, and we make judgments based on appearance fast to the point of subliminal. It is easy to dismiss clothing in everyday life because it is so close to us, it is like second skin: we don't think much about it. And yet it is laden with symbolism so powerful, wars can start over it. In Turkey right now, there is a strong push for college women to wear face-covering head-scarves once again. Many are against it, many are for it, as this particular culture tries to find a balance between its desire to belong to the Western world with its history and religious tradition. And to think that so much controversy and pain would be possible over a couple of square feet of sheer fabric.

Controlling an appearance has a way of controlling personality. Almost all dystopia that describe a totalitarian regime include a description of some kind of uniform that replaces clothing as we know it. Zen's boss may be a long way from Big Brother, but the idea is essentially the same: an attempt to gain some form of control over something that is rather incontrollable: character, temperament, personality.

Of course, any sane person would understand that this is the wrong way to go about gaining the respect of your employees, which is basically what Zen is telling her. Who knows if she listens. And as far as his directness goes, I don't think I can judge on whether it is "accusatory" or not, because I don't know their relationship. One would hope that even if she doesn't listen, she'll have enough sense to see that a person who wrote this letter is a damn good editor.

 
At 1:18 pm, Blogger Arleen said...

One would hope that even if she doesn't listen, she'll have enough sense to see that a person who wrote this letter is a damn good editor.

LOL! Indeed.

 
At 12:54 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

P. said...

If I were his boss I'd be on my knees begging forgiveness and asking which part of my naked body he wanted to come on.

Hey Dave that that comment give you a stiffy?

 
At 7:45 am, Blogger P. said...

It was adult humour, Grant. I don't expect you to have grinned or ignored it, like any sane person.

 
At 8:37 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.said

grinned or ignored it, like any sane person.

Well some one had to say something.
On what do you base your claim that im insane?

 

Post a Comment

<< Home