When an office dress code is done wrong, it can lead to disgruntled employees and sexual harassment lawsuits, as I wrote about last week. But it’s easy to forget why they’re so often necessary in the first place: Employees sometimes just don’t understand what it means to dress professionally — or they do understand, and just choose to ignore this knowledge. As two frustrated employees told me this week, that’s the kind of thing that can drive their more modest coworkers crazy.
“Alicia,” who works in a mostly female boutique design office in southern California, said her colleagues drive her nuts with their inappropriate ensembles. “An employee recently showed up to work with a see-through skirt and a tank top under that she pulled down to make into a dress,” she tells me. “She stood up to greet a walk-in inquiring about services when I noticed her top rolling up exposing her panties. She even took off her bra in front of a male architect trying to be funny one time.” Ha. Ha. Ha?
“This type of behavior is childish and drives me crazy,” “Alicia” says.” I promised myself and another employee that I will say something next time. I cant believe I haven’t yet.”
SM Johnson, an employee at an inpatient mental health unit in Wisconsin, says her employers got so fed up with one employee’s inappropriate styles that they implemented a dress code for everyone:
We used to wear ‘normal’ clothes — like jeans and sweatshirts — in order to give our patients the impression that we’re compassionate companions rather than nurses. The idea was to make the hospital setting feel more like a community setting. And then we had a cute, young nurse start working with us, and she dressed a bit too sexy for the comfort of both staff and patients. So instead of management addressing the problem at an individual level, they changed the dress code policy and required everyone to wear scrubs.
So the cute, young, nurse came to work wearing cute, sexy low-rise scrubs and scrub tops that showed plenty of cleavage.
In the end, Johnson says she has no regrets about the change. She’s even come to enjoy wearing scrubs. But her story is a good reminder that formal dress codes are no substitute for common sense.