Statistics indicate that Americans pay close observation to one another based on three primary principles: what we say, how we look and move, and the delivery of what we say. Specifically, the way we observe each other breaks down like this:
- 7% on the content of what we say
- 38% on the way we look and move
- 55% on delivery, the way we say what we say
Consider that second item for a second. All you blue-jeaned, T-shirted, Birkenstocked workers of America now have permission to hate me. But a fact is a fact. Nearly 40 percent of your impact on others is related to how you look! How does that convey when you address tenants who stop by the manager’s office or greet prospective customers who walk in to inquire about rentals?
Why We Wear What We Wear
Let’s take a quick look at the history of corporate attire to understand why these principles of observation came to be. In the agricultural era, we worked in overalls, straw hats and muddy boots. Industrialization spurred hard hats, rugged denim and steel-toed shoes. As we became more of an office workforce, we took our professionalism very seriously, coming to work dressed in suits, neckties, bow-necked blouses and high-heel shoes. Granted, this wasn’t very comfortable and was a little uptight, but we looked good!
After years of being strangled by our ties and bow blouses, we wanted a little comfort break, so “Casual Friday” came into being. The idea was for just one workday per week we would be rewarded for a job well done by being allowed to loosen up, open the necks of our shirts and blouses, and breathe while toiling away at our jobs. This came with some rules: starched khakis, loafers, pressed polo shirts, no panty hose, and the suit jacket went by the wayside.
As we stepped into the world of high technology, some brilliant person determined that many of us no longer interacted in person with our customers. As a result, it became less important how we looked in the workplace. Casual Friday became two days per week, then three, then every day. In accordance with human nature, we then began to take advantage of what “casual” means.
Until recently, our company was on the 14th floor of a beautiful high-rise, suburban office building. Since we were on the top floor, we spent quite a bit of time on the elevators. A computer company leased the entire 10th floor. It had a huge workforce and obviously embraced the “no one sees us, dress as you please” concept.
Each day, we rode the elevators with people who looked like they were going to picnics or getting ready to work in their gardens or on their cars. Even worse, some looked as though they had just rolled out of bed. Prior to all this people watching, I hadn’t spent much time reading messages or studying logos emblazoned on giveaway T-shirts. I also hadn’t seen nearly as many dirty toenails sticking out from worn-out sandals. It was a whole new workplace! This wasn’t just Casual Friday; it was “sloppy every day of the week.”
I began to wonder how much quality work was really getting accomplished in that office, the state of company morale and the amount of respect those employees had for one another in that environment. What kind of social skills and attitudes were projected when people came to work in what looked like pajamas or clothing intended for yard work? I decided to conduct a little research, talking with employers, clipping articles and consulting the Internet. Here are my conclusions:
- I don’t believe we need to go back to neckties and high heels for work. The same demented person probably invented both. We don’t have to suffer to look professional, especially in self-storage management where we do more than our share of walking, stair climbing and sweating.
- There is no doubt in my mind that we take our work more seriously and have a more positive impact on others—in addition to experiencing improved morale—when we look our best.
- We don’t need to dress in military-like uniforms to get the job done well, though our armed forces and many private schools continue to hold onto that theory.
Wear Do We Go From Here?
So, what’s the right approach for work attire? Our lifestyles today are fast-paced, stressful and hectic. Clothing needs be comfortable and easily maintained, yet attractive. It also needs to appear professional to fulfill the observation requirements of the second bullet point at the beginning of this blog. Remember, 38 percent of our impact on others is based on how we look!
Many self-storage and property-management companies require their on-site team members to dress in “professional attire” or matching apparel. On more casual properties, we often see khaki walking shorts and knit shirts with the company logo on them, and it works. But here’s the thing: It only works well if clothing is ironed, socks and shoes are clean, and the people wearing the uniform are appropriately groomed.
Matching attire is also a great equalizer. Let’s say two women work in the same office. One is married to a successful executive and works because she simply enjoys it, not because she needs the money. She works in $300 dresses. The other woman is a single mom of three, who receives no child support and works to keep a roof over her kids’ heads and food on the table. What little clothing she buys is from discount stores. The morale of the second employee can be greatly improved by being able to dress in the same manner as her coworkers. Matching attire also lets your customers know who is part of the company team.
On the other hand, we don’t have to dress alike to be taken seriously or impress clients. As long as employees are well-groomed and making clothing choices that are work-appropriate, clean, pressed and fit appropriately, it works as well.
Think about how you feel when you enter a place of business and encounter a salesperson who needs a shave, is wearing a wrinkled shirt, has bad breath and needs a haircut. Doesn’t it make you question the quality of the business, its products and the competency of the salesforce?
Taking pride in how we look impacts our performance and makes a positive impression on our customers. All my research indicates that people who dress for success receive more promotions, are better paid and wind up more successful.
So, what are you wearing to work tomorrow?
Howard Stewart is managing partner with Stewart Search Inc., an executive search firm. He is a national recruiter and headhunter specializing in self-storage, property management, real estate and construction. With more than 25 years of experience, the company has placed hundreds of qualified candidates on a national, regional and local basis. For more information, call 561.818.1007; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.selfstorageheadhunter.com.