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Susan M. Heathfield

Difficult Conversations, But - Underwear?

By May 15, 2011

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Okay, it's my job to give you a good laugh some days. Right? Here goes. Every year when the weather turns warm, I receive a few notes asking me about employee underwear - specifically, underwear that is showing under the skimpier clothing employees wear in the summer.

People honestly want to know what to do about it and whether there is a place to address visible employee underwear in the company dress code. And, if not there - where?

Update the Company Dress Code

Proactively, do put visible underwear in your work dress code. Here's what I say in my recommended business casual dress code: "Clothing that reveals too much cleavage, your back, your chest, your feet, your stomach or your underwear is not appropriate for a place of business, even in a business casual setting."

But, the first part of the question is the most interesting. And, yes, you do need to talk to the employee, especially if the clothing is distracting to others in the workplace. I file this in my mind in a folder called "professionalism" and that is the approach I'd take in talking with the employee.

Hold the Difficult Conversation

Here are some additional thoughts in: How to Hold a Difficult Conversation and even more thoughts about how to approach difficult conversations in: How to Tackle Annoying Employee Habits and Issues.

Whatever else you do - do hold the conversation. Many of us avoid conflict and would prefer to postpone difficult discussions. The problem is that every time an employee dresses inappropriately, and you don't tell them, you "train" the employee that their appearance is okay.

The key point is that most employees really want to succeed at work. They don't get up each morning and think, "how can I screw up my work life today." So, if something is not right, or may stand in the way of their advancement, recognition, or pay increases, they generally appreciate that you cared enough to tell them.

Image Copyright Todd Taulman

More about Company Dress Codes

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June 26, 2008 at 12:41 pm
(1) Evil HR Lady says:

I so agree with your assessment. I love your sample dress code language.

May 23, 2010 at 11:58 am
(2) Sharon says:

This one is easy. The company dress code merely needs to state that bare shoulders are not acceptable business attire and garments with sleeves must be worn.

There are many unappealing sights, and one of them is bare upper arms, as well as clevage.

And which is more disturbing, a female employee wearing a lightweight summer skirt with no slip underneath or a petticoat that shows below the hem line? I’ll take the latter over the former anyday. The last thing I want to see is the outline and shadow of a body under the skirt.

White pants and skirts should be banned – period – especially if any color underwear is underneath other than beige.

May 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm
(3) Mary says:

We have a dress code that includes a ban on showing any “cracks”. An employee coined the “no crack allowed” term to cover clevage, low pants, etc. Of course, the policy includes other prohibitions but the “crack” problem seems to be the one that occurs the most.

You should not have a dress code if you don’t enforce it. I have sent more than 1 employee home to change due to inappropriate attire.

July 6, 2010 at 9:34 am
(4) Aled Davies says:

Now that’s a difficult conversation I havent come accross before. This is definately a tricky one and depends upon the gender of the person giving and receiving the feedback. But like all difficult conversations they are easy to avoid but we end up regretting our avoidance further down the road.
I’ve just finished my book on how to have a difficult conversation
(a shameless plug I know) but anyone can download it for free and it deals with some archetypal workplace difficult conversations and as I said right at the beginning – this is a new one one me.

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