Bridging the Gap: Professional Workplace Attire

Thanks for all your comments last week and the week before. You have shown a great understanding of leadership and your thoughts have provided a deeper and more vibrant definition on the subject.

For this week, I want to delve into a leadership topic that can cause rifts within a multigenerational workplace. Some might not even think of it as leadership related but in my experience, it is often the first step in the leadership development path. The topic…professional workplace attire.

More than any other time in history, the multigenerational workplace is creating stress on certain standards of the work environment and "traditional" protocols. Many millennials are clashing with baby boomers on what "work" looks and feels like. To this point, many millennials are not adhering to the traditional rules surrounding work attire and professional dress codes. According to a 2012 study, "93% of millennials say they want a job where they can be themselves at work, and that includes dressing in a way that makes them comfortable." This is contrasted with baby boomers, who largely believe in the importance of maintaining a traditional professional look at the office. These opposing views, present a challenge to senior leadership on how they can bridge the gap between traditional and millennial work attire standards.

However, this gap is not as problematic or challenging as it may seem, and it can instead be treated as an opportunity to start the conversation between millennials and senior leaders, to help each party see the other's point of view. This is a time where bridging the gap within a multigenerational workplace can be the difference between organizational success and failure.

So, this week I want to start with the senior leadership perspective on professional work attire to reveal how to best support and guide millennials to view workplace attire as an extension of their personal brand and leadership development path. Here are my three tips for how to begin leading the conversation about professional workplace attire with your millennial workforce:

1. Communication: Millennials thrive on open and authentic communication, and they will welcome the opportunity to hear your thoughts and share their own on professional image and attire. But be ready to support and explain your point of view as millennials will question the status quo. To best facilitate communication, it may be beneficial to set up small groups of millennial employees that are nominated by their peers to meet and discuss hot topics from their perspective, such as workplace attire. These groups can help dispel frustration and to make sure everyone is feeling heard.

2. Feedback: 80% of millennials said they want regular feedback from their managers, and 75% yearn for mentors. Workplace attire is a great conversation to have a one-on-one conversation with a new hire to explain the standards and how those standards of professional attire tie into their leadership development path. From the moment you walk into an interview with a hiring manager, the clothes, and accessories you have chosen could affect your credibility and judgment as a candidate. As a result, it is very important to design your personal brand image to reflect the leader you want to be, because if you do not, someone else will.

3. Make it a learning experience: Learning is one of the top motivators for employees. For many having a mentor who can guide them through their development and discuss how the road for the future may unfold, is very important. Framing this as it relates to something as simple as how to dress now for the position you want in the future, is very important.

And, just to clarify, I want to acknowledge that all age groups and generations can have professional work attire issues, but I am choosing to highlight millennials for this post because I believe their development as future leaders begins in their very first job with some of the basics in the work environment. It is today’s leaders who have the responsibility to serve as natural role models and coaches for future generations of leaders, whether the topic is workplace dress, how to be respectful of others’ point of views, or how to comport oneself in a meeting with management.

I look forward to your questions and comments!


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