@Work Advice: How to advise an inappropriately attired co-worker

August 13, 2012

Reader: My office has a receptionist in her late 20s. Our dress code is business casual (but that isn’t documented anywhere, such as in an employee handbook). This poor girl has obviously been sheltered, because she is unaware of “business” norms that most of us just seem to know. She wears racer-back tops with bra straps showing, sandals covered in crystals and buckles and fringe, and leggings. None of her outfits are offensive — they’re even cute for a weekend — just not appropriate for business. I’m senior to her, but not a supervisor. Would it be appropriate for me to say something?

Karla: Well, let’s not be too hard on her for not being tuned in to the sartorial hive-mind (says the worker bee who enjoys a little bling). Sure, it’s safer to dress conservatively. But without an explicit dress code, an employer has only itself to blame if workers show up in tube tops and Daisy Dukes.

So, start lobbying HR for written guidelines. The Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org; login required) offers a template that specifies approved and unapproved wear, addresses religious attire and outlines disciplinary measures.

Now, if — big if — you know she values your advice, you could suggest that her clothes don’t always reflect her professional status. Or play dumb: “Oh, Gidget, your bra straps are showing. I have safety pins in my desk if you need them.” Perhaps you could clue her in to those nifty new bra strap clips.

Of course, that’s assuming you’re both women. I can’t think of a way for an older male colleague to safely comment on a female co-worker’s attire. And if it’s a younger guy and an older woman — or if it’s two guys. ... You know what? Maybe you should just let HR handle this.


Karla L. Miller, the Magazine's @Work Advice columnist. (Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

* * *

Reader: I’ve been unemployed for four months. I’ve had several interviews, but no job has been a good fit. I’m searching job boards daily and have signed up for industry job newsletters. Also, I spend hours volunteering, networking at industry events and connecting with previous co-workers. I don’t feel it’s enough. Is there anything else I should be doing? I’m happy with my field and plan to stay there. Is there a missing piece to my job search puzzle?

Karla: If you haven’t already, set up profiles on networking sites such as LinkedIn. Contact some headhunters. Don’t rule out a less-well-fitting interim job or networking events outside your industry. And make sure you have outlets to help stave off frustration and despair.

Otherwise, you seem to be doing all you can with the pieces you control, and your multiple interviews suggest you’re doing it right. Best of luck.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com. You also can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook, www.facebook.com/KarlaLMillerAtWork.

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